The Merry Bowmen of Dale: Journeying East

Pull out your pack and head on down to the Prancing Pony for some great Role Playing (try to stay in character)!

Postby SilverScribe » Thu Jan 12, 2006 11:35 pm

As her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the slave tent, she spotted the fallen dagger next to Jiyadan, then marked his badly wrapped forearm and the dark stains of blood. Had the Westron slave attacked Jiyadan in a drug-fuelled fit? She hardly thought it likely, the blonde man hadn't looked fit enough to kill a spider, much less overpower Jiyadan. Her earlier anger with him had faded out in the desert, now, she felt only frustration and a bone deep weariness of the whole charade they had been operating under. How she wanted to simply mount her warhorse and take the open road east, deeper into the desert and closer to their goal. The desert may be hot and water scarce, but at least it was cleaner, they could avoid slave camps just as well as they could avoid the cities that bred them.

She drew a deep, quiet breath and let it out slowly, silently. No matter how desperately she wanted to be out from under the shadow of the slavery game they now played, she couldn't just leave when darkness fell. She had promised Jiyadan her help in getting the Westron to the same safe house as the others had gone to, she wanted to see for herself that they were all safe, so she must wait for him to wake. Most especially she wanted a last check on the health of Bardhwyn, Canamarth and Menon and craved a last word with the Mistress Archer before they parted ways for what she hoped was only a short amount of time. If they did not regroup and she or Jiyadan were to fail, she also wanted to make sure that the other Bowmen would be gotten out of the East safely. 'How' safely, and where they would go if the war did indeed sweep into Dorwinion and Dale, she didn't know. She could only hope that King Ellessar would be warned in time to rally Gondor to arms once more.

Jiyadan stirred, then turned his head and opened his eyes to look directly at her where she yet sat on the small chest of slave clothes. He said nothing as she opened one side of the lamp, licked the thumb and forefinger of one hand, pinched the wick of the small lamp and whispered a word. The wick blossomed into flame and she closed the small grill as she rose gracefully to her feet.

She nodded at his arm. "You are bleeding, I could tend that if you wish," she said softly.

He squinted a little as if not understanding the question, then dumbly looked at the attempt he had made at wrapping his arm. He moved to sit up but the tent swirled angrily about as he did so and he swayed a little as he nodded, using his other hand to steady himself. He had lost more blood than he realized.

She crossed the space between them quickly and crouched, setting the lamp on the sand beside them with one hand and reaching out to firmly grip his shoulder with the other.

The flicker of light caught his eye for a moment and he felt as if he fell into the dancing flame but he managed to draw his mind back to the present moment, letting a hiss of pain between his clenched teeth as she pulled the inadequate wrappings away, pulling partially dried blood away from the cuts.

"Please Jiyadan, sit quietly and I will fetch my pack." He nodded again and she rose and quickly located her pack among the rest of the gear. She brought it to where the lamp burned softly and squatting down once more, began to rummage quickly. She brought out salt and a roll of clean white linen, then reached out and picked up the waterskin that was still lying near the two men. It was half full, she nodded to herself and in the blink of an eye, the Rhudaurian stealth knife appeared in her hand, she used it to slice off a small length of linen. Dampening it liberally with water, she sprinkled it with salt, then gestured to Jiyadan to hold out his arm.

He did so without question, barely watching what she did. There were many things he questioned about her, but her skill at healing was solid in his mind and he gave her no resistance as she worked.

To his credit, he didn't even wince as she pressed the wet, salty linen to the stripes on his forearm. She dabbed away the dried blood as well as the fresh that welled up from more than one. A second treatment followed the first, then she expertly wrapped his arm with a fresh length of linen, splitting the ends and tying them off firmly. "I am curious, how did you come by these wounds?" she asked quietly as she tied off the small sack of salt and tossed it back into her pack.

He looked at the damage he had wrought upon his own flesh and considered her question. How to explain what he was not sure of himself? Instead of speaking, he reached over and retrieved his dagger from the dirt which was stuck to the now dried blood.

She finished packing away the linen and palmed the stealth knife out of sight, then jerked her chin at the blonde man lying on the other side of Jiyadan. "Surely, he didn't attack you?" she asked.

"No," he murmured, barely above a whisper. "These are not wounds inflicted by another." He did not look at her as he spoke.

His obvious discomfort told her he was not likely to actually answer her question. She decided to respect his privacy and press him no further, the wounds were clean, the salty water would ensure they did not fester. Her attention turned to the blonde slave.

"And that one?" she asked softly. "How does he fare?"

He looked back over his shoulder at the man. "You know as much as I," he murmured as he brought his arm back to his chest, gingerly pressing it with the fingers of his other hand to test the tightness.

She had previously offered her help for the slave and had been spurned, told that the Westron's welfare would be the concern of Zahr Caleck. Wary of sparking yet another fight with the testy Easterling, she was reluctant to repeat her offer, so she didn't. Rising to her feet, she walked over and dropped her pack next to the small chest and sat down once more, leaning forward and bracing her elbows on her knees, her long fingers laced loosely to hang between her knees. "Then all there is to do," she said quietly, "is wait. Let me know when you wish to leave for the city."

As if he had not heard her at all, still testing his bandages even, he murmured, "I am sorry for what I said. Earlier."

She leaned back and raked both hands through her hair. "Any particular part?" she asked with a small smile, then waved one hand and resumed her former position. "No matter, you spoke what was in your heart, I will not quarrel with you over it again."

"I spoke what was in my head," he replied. "I spoke as a fool."

She shrugged. "And I spoke in anger, I am also a fool."

His eyes flicked up to her for a moment then dropped to his arm again. "I can not do this alone."

"Neither can I," she answered. "Oh, I could find Delkarnoth and with cunning and a bit of luck, upset things enough to remove at least his power and influence, but Dramul and the Easterling armies are quite another matter." She scrubbed both hands over her face. "I am still not certain how we would deal with that . . ." she trailed off.

"Nor am I," he said softly.

"Well," she said, standing and stretching, "perhaps later tonight, we can see if the Mistress Archer has had any fresh ideas." Suddenly, her stomach growled loudly. "And I cannot think on an empty belly. Since all our 'cooks' are gone, perhaps we should see about getting something to eat?"

He nodded, his own stomach not entirely empty but still uncomfortable. "There should still be dry rations in the supplies. Some of these things no longer needed can be sold in the market to allow us more supplies for our purpose, though that hardly will fill the stomach at the moment."

She grimaced. "I've had a look at the 'supplies' Jiyadan, and I can't make heads nor tails of what half that stuff is, much less how to prepare it. Eru's teeth! What I wouldn't give for a nice, thick venison stew about now . . . " she mused wistfully, then caught herself. "I suppose dry rations are better than nothing, but perhaps I can find something else. Any chance there's some jerky or dried fruit hiding in all those sacks?" she asked with a faint smile.

"Both are expensive, especially now with the drought, no matter how much that bo'risebrayn denied it. There may be some dried fish left, but mostly beans, bread or other dry goods."

"Fish stew?" she ventured.

"If you wish," he answered. "The fish is dried and salted but perhaps you know some secret to cooking."

She laughed softly. "Actually, I don't know the first thing about cooking unless it's wild game."

"It is perhaps fortunate, then, that I do." He gave a slight smile and made to stand but sat back heavily. "I.. heh. Perhaps if you fetch me the pot and the supplies I will prepare something."

She started towards him, then stopped, unwilling to risk insulting or angering him by noticing how pale he looked. Instead she merely nodded, then went about fetching a cooking brazier and coals, which she set near the door of the tent, tied the flap back just enough to provide air, then lit it. While the coals caught, she dug through the various sacks and brought beans, rice and the dried fish to Jiyadan, spreading the things out on one of the sleeping mats which she unrolled for the purpose. Discarding her cloak, she slipped outside and went to one of the wagons where she found the cooking utensils that the women had carefully packed away after the morning meal. She carried them back to the slave tent and deposited everything next to the other items. She eyed the blonde slave, who was still lying quietly curled up. "Perhaps he will also benefit from some food," she observed.

"Indeed; once it is cooked." He crumbled the fish into the pot then added some beans and enough water to cook them, taking another pot and adding water and the rice. "Where are the spices?" he inquired, looking over what she had brought and not seeing the small box.

She shrugged. "I have no idea, what should I look for?" she replied.

"A small wooden box about... so big," he said, motioning with his hands. "With a latch on it."

She began to rummage through various sacks and baskets, then suddenly held an object aloft. "This it?" she asked, and when he nodded, she walked over and handed it to him.

"Ah, there it is," he said as he opened the box and inhaled. "A man can live on dried rations until judgement day if he has enough curry."

She raised one eyebrow. "Whatever you say. While you court judgement day with your curry, I'm going to start going through all this stuff and sort out what we can sell and what essentials we'll need to keep. Later, we'll probably need to do the same with your tent."

With that, she ignored the growling of her stomach in response to the scents of cooking that were beginning to fill the tent, lit the lamp that hung from the central pole then began sorting through the gear that the slave women had neatly stacked on one side of the tent.

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Sat Jan 28, 2006 4:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Frelga » Mon Jan 16, 2006 1:47 am

The city was like a double-edged sword, sheathed within its walls. One edge was all crumbling mud bricks, stench of refuse piled up in the heat, rags and flies. The other sparkled in the sun with tiled roofs, cradled in their gardens like sapphires on green velvet. Rich houses climbed up the hillside to escape the indignity of the poor streets.

From one edge to the other, a blue-robed rider made his way through the city. The gates opened wide as he approached one of the finer homes. Givi dismounted and Tarek ran up to take the reins from him.

"What joy it is to see you here, oh brother of my heart. I was sick with worry and Sim - he was beside himself." The boy handed the horse over to a stable groom and tugged on Givi's sleeve to steer him toward the house across the red-tiled courtyard. "But my lord knew you would come."

"Your lord knows too much and tells me too little," Givi grumbled in reply as he pulled down the scarf and wiped the sweat off his face.

Tarek looked pained. "He couldn't know that you would turn yourself over, could he? Come, Givi, there is a meal waiting for you. Unless you want to bathe first? The girls are already fighting for the privilege of attending you."

"Shush, you little imp! You should be too innocent to even think such impertinence, let alone speak it aloud to your elders," Givi laughed. Tarek grinned back, looking up into the singer's face like a puppy eager to play. A well-fed puppy with strong, thick limbs that promised one day to match the impressive build of his stonecutter brother, Sim.

And this boy, this clever, brave, happy boy, a slaver would throw to his guards with no more thought than tossing an orange to a monkey - here, take him. Givi's fists clenched at the memory as he thought back to the night of the mutiny, the night he told Scribe about.

"Is something wrong, Givi?" Tarek asked. His eyes widened in concern at the singer's frown.

"Nothing, little one," the hillman replied. "I was just remembering."

How many men did he kill that night? Three at the least, and he thought his own life was the price of his freedom.

Certainly he never thought he would meet any of the other slaves when he galloped under the blazing desert stars. Yet it was only a few months after his escape, the very first time he came to Mahlaad with his new family, that he saw both brothers in the marketplace. Even after that short time, Tarek was hard to recognize, so different he looked from the half-starved, whip-marked slave boy. But Sim's massive frame was unmistakable.

That was the day when Givi had first heard about the master of this house. The two brothers were his servants, for Zahr Calekh refused to own slaves. Not only that, but there were many who, like Sim and Tarek, owed this man their freedom. Even more, he had the power to send a Westron slave safely on the way home, across the sea. So the first time Givi met Zahr Calekh, it was to beg for his help in going back to his mountains. Instead, the hillman offered to help the man who now came out to greet him.

Zahr Calekh's house was a treasure box for every sense, filled with rich, earthy colors. Marble floors were covered with rugs that cushioned the foot like thick grass; water gurgled in the fountains; scent of jasmine drifted on the drafts through the intricate window screens. The meal he offered to Givi more than made up for missing the breakfast, and the food lasted almost as long as the hillman's tale.

At last Give leaned back, a tea-bowl of deep blue cradled in his hand, and waited for his host to speak. For a few moments, only a bird broke the silence, whistling happily about the crumbs under the table. When Zahr Calekh spoke at last, it was not to complete the tale, but to ask a question.

"Are you saying then, Givi, that there were only the two guards in this S'hliyan's camp?"

"Yes," Givi replied. "There was also a woman with fair hair, dressed as a slave. But the night before, when I watched his camp, another woman was with them at the fire. Her hair was dark, but that is common in the West, as you know."

Silence again.

"Two women and a man came to me with the slaves." Zahr Calekh paused and acknowledged the surprise on the hillman's face with a nod. "That leaves only the one she-guard with S'hliyan. Tell me, Givi of Fahn, what did you make of the Westrons?"

Givi shifted on the low, cushioned seat. He had no patience for games. But his love and respect for the man whose meal he shared was second only to that he bore for his own father. So after a deep breath he replied, "I don't know why they are here. Scribe - the guard - mentioned gold. Perhaps that is their goal." He watched the older man closely, but saw no clue to tell him whether he hit his mark. "Once here, they found they could not move across the land except in disguise of slaves. They must be paying this S'hliyan a fortune, to trust him as they do."

"They are not paying him. Nor are they after the gold. You guessed much, and I think it's safer to tell you the full story. But this is not a tale to be repeated, unless you sit in peace in your own house."

"Yes, lord," Givi replied. "I will keep this secret with the others you entrusted me."

"Very well. Tell me now, have you ever heard of the man called Jiyadan Mohi ims’Khajah, who had been El Zikher of the Kingdom of Harad?"

"Only a few rumors, and they differ." It was perhaps strange that a desert nomad heard anything at all about the affairs of a far kingdom, but Givi drew tales to himself as a lake draws streams from every slope.

"And have you also heard rumors of The Black Ghost of Dorwinion?"

"I've heard of him, but at this distance the stories sound more like legends. There is such a man, then?"

"There is such a man. The three are one - him, Jiyadan and S'hliyan the slaver. He offered his help to the emissaries of the West to try and stop the plague and the war it threatens to unleash."
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Jan 28, 2006 4:28 pm

While the tantalizing scents of cooking began to slowly fill the slave tent, Scribbles lit a second lamp and began to work. She first sorted through the baggage until she had found all the Bowmen's belongings, packs and weapons. The tack for their mounts was still carefully hidden under some rough sacking in the back of the smaller wagon, but the rest of their things had been hidden among the rest of the slave baggage and it took her a little bit of searching to locate it all. The packs she stacked to one side and the weapons she carefully wrapped with strips she made from tearing up a couple of the light blankets, then loaded them into a large burlap sack. Once she was satisfied she had missed nothing, she wiped sweat out of her eyes and quietly cursed the still stifling heat that filled the tent. She sat down on the small chest and pulled off her boots, wiggling her bare feet into the sand with a sigh of relief. Shucking her cotton shirt, she returned to her task in just trousers and her thin cotton undervest, grateful for the even the slightest movement of air on her bare arms.

She turned her attention to the rest of the gear and with quiet determination, began going through every sack, crate and barrel, separating everything into two piles. The larger pile grew rapidly, swelled with things like the extra sleeping mats, blankets, cooking gear and the spare clothing and weapons they had taken from Yitak's camp. The smaller pile contained mainly the foodstuffs, a compact set of cooking pots, a couple of spare blankets and the waterskins.

The odours of the cooking food were now overpowering. Dusting off her hands she looked towards the coal brazier where Jiyadan was sitting. Her stomach growled loudly.

" I could eat a raw Oliphaunt about now," she said with a lopsided grin. "Whatever you are making smells heavenly, any chance it is nearly ready?"
.
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Postby Frelga » Mon Feb 06, 2006 11:42 pm

"So." Givi exhaled the word on a long breath as he considered the news. All those broken pieces that puzzled him for the past two days snapped together and took a solid shape. He pondered it, while Zar Calekh waited in patient silence.

The little brown bird with red chest returned to the table and brought along a friend. Givi watched the pair hop near his feet. "And now it's down to this Jiyadan and Scribe," he said at last. "She is formidable, true, but what can the two of them do against such a great disaster?"

"Only the gods know. But if any man stands a chance, it is Jiyadan, and if he places his trust in this Scribe, then I must do the same."

"You think so much of him?" The singer tore off a piece of flat bread and dropped the crumbs near the birds, without looking at either the bread or the birds. His gaze rested on the garden wall, where lemon branches were trained to grow in neat lines. But what he saw lay far beyond the wall, beyond the hills - a faint trail that wound through endless sands. Red dust veiled the trail, swords and arrows waited there - danger and a chance of glory. Givi's lips parted in a fierce grin, and his nostrils trembled as if he could smell the lion's breath of the desert.

"I think Jiyadan is fated for great deeds, yes," Zar Calekh replied, watching his guest closely. "But Givi, you can't be thinking of going with him?"

"Who better? I spent two years riding the desert trails with Ash-Gareh, and I can speak Westron with Scribe. If this Jiyadan is fated for great deeds, why not Givi also?" Givi caught his host's frown, and his boastful grin faded, replace by a frown of his own. "It's the man himself who worries me. He is proud and mistrustful. Rightly so, you might say, but…" Givi broke off and rubbed his wrists as if the slaver's rope still burned him.

Zar Calekh leaned forward to rest his hand on Givi's shoulder. "You had a long day, my friend, and a hard night. Rest in my house a few hours. You and I, we did what we could. There are thirteen women who will never taste the whip again, and three Westrons who will return safely to their home. The rest is up to Jiyadan."

"I wonder," Givi whispered. "But I thank you for your hospitality. Tarek mentioned a bath, back in the courtyard. Whatever road I take, it will be a long time before I have another chance at getting clean."

"You shall have your chance, then. When my men come back with S'hliyan's slaves, I will let you know where things stand."
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Postby Jiyadan » Sun Feb 26, 2006 11:34 am

Jiyadan gave the Scribe a lop-sided grin. "Almost," he replied before returning the lid to one pot and stirring the other. After a moment he let his eyes flicker to the man beside him, concerned about his health. He could tend battle-field wounds well enough, but the wounds this man bore lay on the inside as well as the out, and he had no skill at those.

Taking out a small pouch of resin, he crumbled a little into the edge of the fire, letting the faint fragrance carry through the tent. He knew Rhun could not best him so long as he carried his home in his heart where it could not be stolen away, but being surrounded by all that he despised was a sore trial and he sought what small comforts he could find.


Lifting the lid of the pot again, he pushed the rice around with the spoon and nodded, satisfied it was fully cooked. "If you bring the plates over...," he said, motioning to where they sat, "I think this is about ready now."

He made a small dome of rice in the middle of each plate and spooned the thick sauce over it before handing one back to the Scribe and setting another aside for himself. Then gently he shook the man's shoulder to see if he could rouse him to eat.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun Feb 26, 2006 10:02 pm

He had not planned to sleep. Lying still and silent he had simply given in to the will of his Master and the pounding of his head. His tongue, before dry in his mouth was moist from the water though he could feel the beginnings of the drought filling him again. A soft breath of air passed between his parted lips. He twitched slightly, like a dog in slumber. Without meaning to he drifted, his body trying desperately to capture enough energy to function in its injured state.

Fragments of dreams rushed about him, strange pieces of ethereal dissatisfaction. Too much discomfort, too much confusion, too much hate and pain and blood. It was crippling him, dragging him down even when he tried to escape it. In sleep the Fool shuddered and tossed.

A hand nudged him from the depths, a firm but gentle waking. Uncertain and cloudy in waking Façade fumbled for clarity. He could smell the unmistakable odour of cooked rice, the rich scent of a stew cooked with spice and herbs that tugged at his sense of the familiar. He was reminded of his family, the wandering Shi’uri, and for a moment he struggled to place himself in his surroundings. The comforting caress of the hand that woke him, the scent of the meal, the thud of canvas walls. “¿Lina?” he coughed through a dry throat, blinking hard to try and discourage the misty fog that had settled over his sight. “¿Eso es tu? ¿Dónde estoy yo?”

The reply, though delayed, was distinctly male, rumbling out from the throat as a plate was pushed into his hand. Jumping a little Façade woke completely, wide eyes blinking back the last of sleep’s fog to reveal the face of Jiyadan. He wanted to let a tumbling river of distress fall from his lips at the realisation that he was far from his home but all that came out was a rushing sigh quickly stifled. The plate in his hand shivered in time with his trembling hand. The intensity of the Master’s stare frightened him. Quickly he averted his eyes, staring down and to the side, his head inclined in a tense sideways tilt that implied the mental expectation of a beating. Uncomfortable and apprehensive he waited. Whatever would come of the potent concentration behind those dark eyes was yet to be revealed.
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Postby Jiyadan » Tue Feb 28, 2006 9:11 am

“¿Eso es tu? ¿Dónde estoy yo?”

Jiyadan sat back heavily, having not expected such a reply. It took him a moment to find his voice again. "Try to eat a little," he said at last, pressing the plate into the man's hand.

Turning to is own plate, he took a bite and shrugged to himself. It was not as flavorful as he had been hoping for, but he had tried to keep the spices to a minimum for not knowing how the westerners would take to it. At least it was better than the bland rations that had sustained them this far.

Though he ate in silence, his mind turned the words of the man over and over in his mind. How on earth had he come to know one of the Harad dialects common among the Shi'uri?
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Postby SilverScribe » Tue Feb 28, 2006 9:16 pm

The scent of the resin burning on the charcoal brazier reminded her of something in her distant past, a dim memory of a sun-drenched afternoon in a wild-flower speckled glade, deep among tall, heavily-crowned trees. She knew it was neither Lothlorien nor Mirkwood, for her father had never allowed her mother to journey back to either place once they had settled in Rhudaur. But her mother had often taken her and slipped away into the deep, wild woods that clothed the foothills of the Misty Mountains, and there had often scattered dried rose petals on their evening fire, scenting the gathering shadows with the memories of home . . .

Her reverie was broken when Jiyadan asked her to bring plates, she picked them up along with a waterskin and dropped crosslegged onto the sleeping mat. She took the plate he filled for her gratefully, returning his grin with a somewhat cautious and shy one of her own.

She thought the rich, thick fish stew and the fragrant rice was possibly the most delicious thing she had tasted. Of course, it helped that her stomach was practically caving in on itself, she had always had a healthy appetite and it seemed as though their entire trek in the East was punctuated by almost constant hunger. Though she was no stranger to hardship and hunger, she often longed for a large chunk of roasted meat, the thought of a wild goose or a slab of venison crackling over a campfire had sometimes nearly drove her to distraction. Perhaps once they moved out again, she would see if there was any game worth having in those dry, scrubby hills . . .

She glanced over to where Jiyadan had managed to rouse the new, or rather the former, slave. The man seemed disoriented . . . “Lina? Eso es tu? Dónde estoy yo?” he croaked softly.

Though her face remained impassive, a glint of recognition lit her eyes. She knew the language, it identified his origins just as surely as her own slightly pointed ears identified hers. 'Shi'uri?' she thought to herself with some surprise. Her natural curiosity was instantly aroused, the Shi'uri clans were fiercely protective of ther own, how in all of Arda had one of the Wandering Folk come to be a slave in the East? And why was this one so fair, all of the clans she had ever met were predominately dark haired and dark eyed.

The immediate answers were all too trite and predictable. He had been caught doing something terrible and had been exiled from his clan, then caught up in an Easterling raid? One of his parents had either been taken by or had willingly fallen in with the clan, and was fair of complexion and hair, so he was likely a half-breed like herself and maybe had been turned out because of it? Or, he had thought to come to the East to make his fortune, and had instead found himself snapped up like a minnow by a barracuda? Whatever it had been, she decided, it was none of her business. The man himself was Jiyadan's problem, and the sooner they had him safely ensconced with the rest of the slaves and the recovering Bowmen at the safe house, the better. Both for him, and for Jiyadan and herself.

She spooned rice and fish stew into her mouth and chewed slowly, savouring the subtle spices and flavours of the warm food and watching absently as Jiyadan handed the dishevelled blonde man a plate, his waking confusion replaced by a swift shift in his posture to one of fear and subservience. If he was of the Shi'uri, his manner was in stark contrast to the proud and passionate nature of that people.

Her thoughts drifted off as she ate and began to focus around the upcoming meeting with the other Bowmen later that night. There were many things she wanted to speak with Canamarth about, and many other things that she felt were necessary to review and understand with Bardhwyn before they parted for only Illuvatar knew how long. But that would have to wait, Jiyadan had said he would not go into the city until full dark.

When Jiyadan had settled down to his own dinner, Scribbles cleared her throat softly and when he glanced her way, she very slightly nodded her head in the direction of the blonde man and struggled to find the words she wanted in Eastron.

"Not Westron, those words," she said softly in Eastron, then, "I know those words." She paused again, trying to dig out terms and phrases she was not yet confident with. "To my people, they are words of . . ." She was not entirely sure the Eastron words she had were the correct ones, so she finished in Westron. "Wandering Folk." She thought for a moment then added, "Har ims'shi'uri? Har jan ja." *

* He is of the nomads? He is too fair." (fair meaning 'light' as in light hair and skin)

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Wed Mar 01, 2006 5:39 pm

Shi'uri. So far from home, if he were, but the Scribe was correct, far too fair-skinned to be one of the Haradrim Shi'uri at any rate. They were hospitable to all but still their clans remained tightly closed to strangers. Despite their reputation, he also knew they did not steal babies out of cribs. Even if they had, no Haradrim was so fair as this man either. No, clearly he was a westerner, and so Jiyadan could not reconsile the two concepts, that he was what he was yet spoke the Shi'uri language.

Jiyadan glanced over to the westerner and then back to the Scribe and shrugged. "I do not know," he replied in Eastron. Looking back over, the submissive posture of the man could not be mistaken, nor the fear in his downcast eyes. Fear of pain, fear of a beating. Jiyadan wished in a way that he would have time to explain, but better to just get him to the safety of Zar Calekh's and let him hear the truth there and be tended.

Still, he would have liked to find the answers to the puzzling questions. Perhaps he still could, and there was only one way to find out. He and picked up the water-skin, passing it over to the man. "¿Tiene usted sed?*"

----------------------------
*Are you thirsty?
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Postby Frelga » Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:39 pm

Givi awoke from sleep as dark and soundless as a womb. He floated on down pillows, relaxed, aware only of warmth and safety. Slanted rays cut through the marble grating, tinged with sunset warmth.

Sunset! He scrambled up, ignoring the bad leg - it was always fussy after rest. Still numb from sleep, he had to grab the silken drapes for support. In a moment, memory supplied the reason behind the urgency that kicked him off the bed. The nomads - Jiyadan - the plague. His clothes, where were they? He still wore a soft robe that Tarek supplied after the bath. Givi pulled the robe tighter around himself and headed out of the small garden pavilion where his host made a bed for him.

Tarek was seated under a lemon tree in front of the pavilion, guarding his friend's rest. As Givi opened the drapes in the arched doorway, the boy jumped to his feet and ran up the steps.

"Got a little rest, brother? You slept through a day, a night and another day."

"You and your jokes!" Givi gasped once his heart began to beat again. "Where are my clothes, little imp?"

"Had you for a moment," the boy laughed. "Your nomad garb is being cleaned and dried. Your horse will fly now that it doesn't have to carry all the dust. Here are some things that my lord left for you."

Givi frowned as he picked up a pair of wine-red pants made of thick, flowing silk. He gave the boy a light shove as a hint to get out of the room. The shirt was cotton, as fine as apricot petals, the sash was a long strip of red silk and the vest was silver brocade. The clothes were those of a well to-do city dweller. What happened, he wondered, that Zar Calech wanted to conceal the presence of an Ash-Gareh in his house? At least his sword was there, waiting by the bedside. He got dressed and went out into the garden.

"Tarek, where are you, little brother? Get my horse saddled, would you?" he called as he passed through the door hangings again.

But the voice that replied was not that of a boy but smooth and bright, like a silk ribbon. "You need not rush, Givi." Kethmehat approached the pavilion. Her veils glowed in the warm light like petals of a white rose. She spoke softly and Givi was drawn to stand close to her, so that he may listen and look. Tarek was nowhere to be seen.

"That slaver…" he began.

"Jiyadan. I know. I am not pleased with Zar Calech today. If he only told me from the first, much trouble could be avoded." There was a hint of ownership in the way she spoke the lord's name that made Givi wonder if they were lovers. Kethmehat was beautiful. Beyond that, he knew nothing about her.

"What do you make of that man?" Givi asked, dragging five fingers through his sleep-tousled curls. He was so used to the nomad's scarf that the wind in his hair felt strange.

"Jiyadan? You were right, he is an officer through and through. But Zar Calech would tell you that I am prejudiced because the man failed to worship at my feet." She laughed softly, and the sound made Givi smile back with pure pleasure.

"A conspicuous lack of judgment, yes. But the lord seems to think that he is the man to end this plague. Why he and no other?"

"Because he and no other set out to end it," Kethmehat replied.

Givi thought that over. "I think I will go with him," he said. She didn't answer at once nor did she seem surprised. That must mean that Zar Calech told her of Givi's plan, and that meant in turn that the lord did not oppose it.

"Why, Givi? Two men or three, what is the difference?"

"I don't know. At the least, my blue robe will keep them safe on the way. No other brigand would attack a traveler under protection of the Ash-Gareh. And then… I spent days now wondering about them. That Scribe, his guard, what is she? Not a pure-blooded Elf, but she must have some Elf-blood. And how did El Zikher came to share the camp with a man of Rohan? If I let this chance slip, I will not sleep another night as long as I live, always wondering how the story went. Do you think I am a fool?"

"No, I think you are you," she smiled. Her hand brushed his cheek, lighter than the evening breeze. "But there is no need for you to ride out yet. That's what I came to tell you. They will be back tonight, after dark. Jiyadan rescued another slave, the Westerner who tried to escape and was caught. He will bring him here to Zar Calech. If you wish, you can be there when he comes. You can make your choice then. There is still time before the night falls."
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Postby The_Fool » Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:04 pm

Are you thirsty? Oh cruel! To hear those beloved words slip from a slaver’s lips. The language of the proud and untameable Shi’uri spoken as if they were owned by one such as him. His accent was slight, almost indistinguishable. And, as if to barb him, he used the formal ‘you’ a mocking slight that only threw his current position in his face. No slaver would ever refer to a slave with respect. Façade, still clutching the plate close to him, risked a glance at Jiyadan from beneath his lashes that smouldered. Dark and dangerous it held in it the wilful flash of his adopted family. Purposefully he answered in Eastron, unable to curb the acidic bite of his tongue. “I want nothing. You have given everything, Master.”

He waited for reprimand. For any form of punishment for his insolence. Surprise at receiving none was what finally made him risk another glance at his new Master, his dinner plate held like a shield before him.

- - -

“My but aren’t we busy?” Bhenan mused, raising one languid hand to shield his eyes against the final glare of the sun as his convoy approached his Uncle’s house. “It seems my Uncle is not as…unfortunate as some perceive hmmm Htiet?”

The bodyguard gave a slight nod of his head, eyes flicking amongst the crowds as he nudged his horse closer to his charge’s. Azis and Izis, padding along just ahead of their master swung their streamlined muzzles from side to side, noses twitching, pink tongues lolling out of the side of their mouths, exposing sharp white teeth.

The whirl of activity wound its way about the small group of men who were making their way to the archway that marked the threshold to Bhenan’s Uncle’s house, ready to welcome the newcomers onto the property. It was a common respect paid to most travellers within the Eastron district, whether they were family or no, and it was considered highly insulting to set foot across the boundaries of another man’s home without first letting him offer you his hospitality. Impatient and fidgeting, Bhenan tapped one spidery finger against the ornate pommel of his saddle.

“Please Ba’radan S’ravsahiv,” Htiet murmured, his lips barely moving, “do not insult your Uncle.”

“I will do what I wish,” Bhenan snapped back, yanking his hand up viciously in his irritation so that his horse pranced, tossing its head with its nose in the air in an attempt to relieve itself of the sudden pain in its mouth. “Do not think you have any right to order me about Htiet.” He spat out his bodyguard’s name then smiled in true serpentine fashion. A sly nudge of his heel and the horse skipped within the boundaries, stamping and snorting. Behind it Azis and Izis slunk in like two black assassins.

“Nephew!” The word was barked out, sharp and devoid of amusement. “Have you forgotten yourself?”

“I think not Uncle,” Bhenan purred, turning his horse so that he could look down at Zar Calech from on high, thickly painted eyes half closed in self-confident arrogance. “Its so common to be kept waiting at the gate. After all,” that cloying, dangerous smile slipped across his beautiful lips, “we’re family.”

“Indeed.” Somehow Zar Calech made the word respectful despite the disappointment in his tone. “I received your letter only some moments ago Nephew. You must excuse the fact that there has not been time to properly prepare your usual rooms. As you can see, I am busy.”

“Very busy Uncle,” Bhenan observed with a toss of his head. “I did not know you were so enamoured of the slave trade. Thinking of giving up all of Hazir’s money to start a camel line?” He laughed viciously then dismounted in a flurry of coloured silk. “Who knows, perhaps you can finally make a respectable name for yourself, Sympathiser.”

Zar Calech stiffened. “You shouldn’t listen to gossip Nephew, it’s the sign of a weak character.”

With a dismissive sniff Bhenan turned his attention to the slaves in the courtyard, one slender hand on his hip. “I hope you plan to keep that preening tsyaka courtesan Kethmehat of yours locked up until dinner is finished,” he said finally. “She has a habit of ruining my appetite.”

“Dinner will be served after the third night hour,” Zar Calech returned. “You may retire to the blue room if you wish until then. Afterwards we can see to this slave of yours.”

“And send me on my way as soon as possible Uncle?” Bhenan smirked over his shoulder. “How transparent of you.” Azis and Izis at his heels the young lordling strode off across the courtyard, leaving Htiet to swear as he tossed his reins aside then scramble to keep up.

“Always a pleasure Nephew,” Zar Calech muttered at the departing Ba’radan, rolling his eyes. “I look forward to your visits as I look forward to a viper in my bed.”
Last edited by The_Fool on Sun Mar 12, 2006 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Jiyadan » Wed Mar 08, 2006 11:33 pm

Eyes like a beaten dog glanced up at him and Jiyadan returned their gaze with a steadfastness that belied the agony he felt within. The man looked away, clutching his plate as if an anchor, then boldened looked once again.

Jiyadan set the water skin at the man's feet. "Drink," he said. He spoke in Westron, not disguising his natural accent of the south. He only hoped that when Zar Calekh had revealed the truth to the man, he could look back upon these moments and understand. Regret at how well he had played his part was welling within him. Yes, he had ensured that no one would ever question the truth of the facade he had put forth.

And now, here sat the man he hoped to save, instead cowering before him. Would it break his mind to hear the truth? Would he think it a cruel trick? An excuse for fun at his expense? No, better to leave it to the man whose experience was just this sort of thing and let him adjust carefully. "Drink," he said again as if having forgotten he had said it already. "We will go soon."

Taking another bite of his own meal, he then turned his attention to the Scribe. "Should we leave as soon as we have finished in the city, under cover of darkness? Sell what we will at the next town so as to arouse fewer questions? Or do we stay until morning, leave in full light?"

She shrugged. "I am not certain which is best. Perhaps another town will be better, but since everyone here knows you have sold your slaves, then selling the rest will not seem unusual."

"Slaver is a profession, Scribe. Like a fisherman. He does not sell his boat and nets when he brings in his harvest but returns to the sea. Whether we leave tonight or tomorrow, we can not sell these here."

"Then I say we move by cover of night, and sell in the early morning markets in the next town," she answered quietly.

Jiyadan nodded, pausing to swallow before he answered. "I think that would be best also. It will not be long before we can enter the city free of too many prying eyes. Perhaps Menon's clothes can suffice until we reach the safe-house. There he can be properly dressed and Menon's clothes as well as the rest of the bowmen's things can be returned to them."

She nodded agreement silently, and wiped the last of the rice and savoury fish stew off her place with her fingers.

In the distance, the sound of music being struck drifted on the evening air - esoteric instruments unknown in the west brought to life by the skilled hands of slaves. The sounds of them struck the ear like the incorporeal voice; one as if spirit wailing, another like a lover's sigh. Holding them to the earth was the rhythmic drumbeat, heartbeat of the world.

Jiyadan leaned back, still picking at the rice, and let quiet contemplation take him for a moment. For the first time, a sense of nostalgia and memory that was not steeped in pain and hatred passed through his mind. He remembered sitting with his mother listening to the same instruments being played. 'Music is the freedom of slaves,' she had told him. 'Music is our voice when we are forbidden words. Music is our passion when we are forbidden feeling. Music is our prayer when we are forbidden sacrifice.'

The tune was a mournful one, a farewell to the sun - the life of the earth. It was one of memory and longing, of uncertain future and hope as a wisp of smoke. Before he realized it, a tear had slipped down his cheek and fallen to the dusty earth.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Mar 11, 2006 9:55 pm

"Slaver is a profession, Scribe. Like a fisherman. He does not sell his boat and nets when he brings in his harvest but returns to the sea. Whether we leave tonight or tomorrow, we can not sell these here."

She cursed herself for being a fool yet again. Of course they wouldn't sell everything, just because the "stock" was gone! What had she been thinking? More important, why couldn't she seem to think properly these days? What was it about the East that seemed to cloud her judgement, shred her patience and irritate her like a burr under a saddleblanket?

The answer came almost immediately as she watched Jiyadan speak to the cowering blonde man. It was the ruse, the game, or, more to the point, the lie they were being forced to live. She felt as though the sand and wind and the very canvas of the tent was stifling her, what she wanted most was the freedom to walk openly as who and what she was. The necessity of the false roles they played was chafing her soul raw, but she clamped down on the recurring irritation and anger with an iron hand. If ever she needed to forget the past and exercise the patience of centuries, it was now.

When the music started, she passed a hand wearily over her face. The drum-heavy music was hard on her sensitive hearing and reminded her of older, evil times . . . of hordes of goblins boiling out of the mountain passes in Rhudaur to attack and burn, of orcs in the tunnels of forgotten fortresses, of the wild men of Dunland capering and dancing drunkenly around fires piled high with the spoils of a settlement they had just finished pillaging. A slow, rythmic ache began to build behind her eyes, keeping time with the throbbing beat of the music.

She rose to her feet and went to where the Bowmen's packs were piled. Finding Menon's, she dug out a pair of tan suede trousers with a matching belt and a soft, white cotton shirt. She retied the pack, then went to where Jiyadan sat and dropped the clothes beside him. "They will be too big I fear," she said quietly, "but they are clean. They should serve quite well until we get him to this 'safe house'."

Jiyadan nodded but then turned his head away, even so she caught the slight glint of something . . . She was reluctant to ask him anything, he would likely not speak in front of the slave anyway and she did not want to offend him or risk embarrassing him. "I am going out to get some air," she finished softly, then stepped around Jiyadan and slipped out of the tent into the gathering dark.

***

She sat down crosslegged in the shadow of the tent wall and with long fingers, massaged her aching temples. Patience. Time, no matter how slow it appeared to pass, still marched steadily onward. This night would pass and they would be on their way soon enough. She drew a deep, shuddering breath and let it out slowly, then settled down to wait.

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sun Mar 19, 2006 11:21 pm

"They will be too big I fear," the Scribe said quietly, "but they are clean. They should serve quite well until we get him to this 'safe house'."

Jiyadan picked up the shirt and nodded in silent agreement. The man would likely look like he was a child attempting to wear the clothing of an adult in this for Menon was not a small man nor slim. But it would do, as she said, and it was a far sight more appropriate for a man on his way to freedom.

He quickly wiped the back of his hand along his cheek before picking up the trousers as well, glad there was a belt for it and wondering if even that would cinch tight enough.

"I am going out to get some air."

"We will leave as soon as he is dressed," Jiyadan said as she slipped from the tent. He could not be sure, but he guessed her 'air' was more to lend the man privacy.

Balling the clothes, he set the pile down next to the westerner. "When you have finished eating and have drunk your fill, dress in these. If the belt does not tighten enough, we will have to use rope but try the belt first."

This was the last task to be done in the city. They would take the man to Zar Calekh and speak once more to the bowmen before heading out, two against the entire East. He hoped to be far from this city when the sun rose, perhaps even make the next before the sun had risen full. Though, the baggage would slow them down. Once they were free of it they could move unhindered and quickly across the remaining plains.

But what was to be done when they reached their destination? Two against the army of the East? Two against the palace guards, the King's own, and even the black sorcerer the Scribe had mentioned? It was perhaps a fool's errand, but then, he was just such a fool. He could do little else but trust in A'imha's spirit to guide him - guide them both - to whatever end had been fore-ordained for them.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun Apr 02, 2006 3:31 pm

Façade regarded the clothes somewhat suspiciously over his plate. He sat hunched, trying to draw as little attention to himself as possible. He scooped rice up with fingers and thumb with a delicacy that had always accented his table habits. The fish in the stew he dissected before chewing with absent precision, never taking his eyes from the piece of earth before Jiyadan’s feet. He seemed lost, a wayward child who suddenly realises the enormity of his situation now that he has been cut adrift. It made the man seem painfully young in his solemn solitude.

When the food on the dinner plate had dwindled to half its former glory he gave a soft sigh filled with tired destitution. Wiping the only three fingers he had dirtied throughout his entire consumption of the rice and stew clean the Fool turned his attention to the clothes his Master had set before him. The kohl that ringed his eyes had smudged in slumber, making his eyes appear eerily deep set. He blinked, and for a moment all that existed were shadows beneath his brows. He was aware of his Master’s quiet gaze, and it disturbed him in its unobtrusive nature. He was used to being stripped by such gazes, but somehow this slaver’s observation seemed less predatory.

Plucking up the white cotton shirt Façade manoeuvred himself awkwardly into it, clutching the blanket about his middle with one hand even as he tried to force his arm into the sleeve. The style of the shirt was so obviously Western it made him cringe. To be reminded of home….He took a deep breath; let it out shakily. Though the shirt was too wide across the shoulders the sleeves were fine, cuffs sitting at his wrists as he fussed quietly with the collar with delicate fingers. The pants too were fine in length, if a little loose about the middle. More so than they would have been considering his recent weight loss. The stress of his situation had taken its physical and mental toll upon his body. He risked a sideways glance at his Master, hoping he would not be angry to see his slave so poorly dressed.

The belt was useless. Yet, determined, Façade took up a thin gauzy scarf the tall, pearly-haired woman had discarded and wrapped it tight about his middle. It accented the thin nature of his middle, an unfortunate side-effect, but it was effective in keeping the pants upon his body. He looked up then, gaze shaded by the length of his lashes as he folded his long-fingered hands submissively before him. “I am dressed, Master.”
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Postby Jiyadan » Sat Apr 08, 2006 11:12 pm

Jiyadan did not think that word, that hateful cruel title, would ever cease to sting his ears. Nevertheless, there were more important things to be done than allow any word to throw him off. He gave a nod. "Wrap yourself in the blanket. You will pretend you are sick, the Scribe will carry you. Do you understand?"

“Yes, Master,” came the whispered reply. His eyes remained on the floor, one hand plucking nervously at his sleeve. A tic picked up from his drug dependency.

Jiyadan nodded again and pushed open the flap to the tent. "Scribe," he called softly. "We are ready." He waited until she was within distance of soft whispers. "I will lead the bowmen's horses, we can put whatever of theirs we need to take on one of them. You carry..." Jiyadan stopped short and felt horrified for a brief moment as he looked over towards the man.

"You," he said gently, "what is your name?"

“Façade,” he returned, his voice flat, devoid of any form of emotion. He had considered asking whether it mattered at all. The Master’s will was the slaves’. If he were to tell the Fool that his name were now ‘Horse’ he would have no say in the matter.

The irony of the name would have caused Jiyadan to laugh under better circumstances. Now he just considered it for a silent moment before turning back to the Scribe. "Yes, you will carry Façade, wrapped in a blanket. If anyone inquires, he is sick and I am taking him to a chirugeon. There should be little doubt of the claim. A'imha willing, this will be over in less than an hour."

"I will be glad to be quit of this place and this game," she replied, and he thought perhaps he heard a hint of bitterness in her voice. If there were, he agreed.

The bowmen's things had already been sorted out and gathered, all that was needed was to lash them to one of their horses which took but a few minutes with the two of them working in tandem. A sort of urgency had fallen over Jiyadan, though he could not explain it, and he felt the need to quit this place as soon as it could be done. His soul whispered of a darkness that had fallen, a deeper black than what resided here otherwise.

When the horses were ready, Jiyadan took the reigns and the Scribe lifted Façade as a child and with no more effort than if he had been. Without further word, they set off towards the city gates. The smells and sounds of the slave camps soon gave way to the quiet streets of the city. They avoided the dark places where the night created its own life and instead stayed to the main roads where they were least likely to be confronted by anyone at this late hour.

His heart was pounding when they finally reached the gates of Zar Calech's estate. "Cover his face," he told the Scribe, waiting until she had pulled the blanket across before taking the final steps towards the gate's keeper. With a bow to the servant, Jiyadan lowered his voice to a soft breath. "I am S'hliyan; I bring the promised slave to the master of the estate. Please inform him we wait at the gate and have not a moment to lose."

The servant looked between the three and then back to Jiyadan. "Of course," he replied before turning to scurry towards the lights of the house, slippers slapping on the courtyard stone. Jiyadan and the Scribe exchanged brief glances in the minutes that passed before more footsteps could be heard returning.

Zar Calech was prompt in his appearance. His robe flapped about his ankles as he strode across to greet Jiyadan. As he passed the unmistakable figure of a military man in the courtyard he jumped a little, the sudden snap and snarl of dogs filling the evening air. The man in charge of the hounds swore loudly, tugging viciously at collars fastened around muscular necks.

“Azis! Ritsay you sa kai tsyaka, be still!”

Wrapped in his blanket, Façade turned pale, a low moan escaping his lips. He began to tremble, as if the air had suddenly turned cold.

Jiyadan spared a brief glance at where the cursings had come from but then turned back to Zar Calech and gave a low bow of respect before stepping in close and speaking in continued low whispers. "I do not know the extent of his injuries, but he was badly beaten and drugged. If a way can be found to return him with the others..." he trailed off for a brief moment, then cleared his throat and continued. "I have no way of knowing if I will return this way again."

Zar Calech frowned a little, his gaze lifting from Jiyadan to rest upon the well-wrapped figure of the Western slave. The glimpse of tangled blond hair, the deep smudges under his eyes and he bruises upon his face were all testament to the trials he had braved. But there was something about this slave that tugged at the older man. His eyes were fixed upon the dogs, his shivering frame provoking Zar Calech to gesture to his servant for an oil lamp.

“I will do what I can S’hliyan,” he began, taking the lamp between strong, worn fingers, “but - ” He broke off as the flickering light of the lamp’s solitary flame flared in the slave’s eyes, catching the unusual colour and accentuating it. “By all the gods,” he sighed, addressing Façade, “what did you do boy, to deserve this cruel turn of fate?” Lowering the lamp he shook his head slowly, watching Façade. “I cannot take him.”

Jiyadan at first thought he had not heard correctly, then his brow furrowed and he stepped closer. "What do you mean? I do not understand, you must take him!"

“If I could S’hliyan, it would be done,” Zar Calech replied evenly, folding his hands across his belly, “but if I take him now, as you ask, it will do him no good. I received a visitor today. That visitor is looking for him.” He gestured with his eyes to where the soldier with the dogs stood. “Those dogs in the courtyard are his. Azis and Izis. Look. Look at how he shakes at their names. He is terrified.”

Façade was fretting now, squirming and trembling like a horse ringed in by wolves. His eyes were wide, his jaw tight in an attempt to keep his mouth closed and his terror from spilling out vocally.

Jiyadan swore viciously under his breath. "And there is no where else you can take him? No where you can hide him? You know of my errand, Zar Calech. How can I keep him?"

“I can take him if I must,” Zar Calech replied after some pause, “but I cannot guarantee that even hidden your man will be safe. My nephew does not respect people and he has ways of finding things out. Already he suspects that I am not all that I pretend to be. He would use that against me. To get this slave he would do many things. Hurt many people. He has no concept of goodness. And he wants this man. He has ridden across a desert with his bodyguard, his dogs and a pile of gold to get him.”

"Then tell me who you know in Shyst. We are heading there directly, we will leave him with a contact there if we can not leave him here."

“There is a man there,” Zar Calech scratched his chin and made a slight grimace, as if the action pained him. “He is not easy to contact. He runs the labyrinths beneath the city. He is beneath the law, the king of the underground. In short, there is the law, and there is him. He aids me in my ventures because once, we were like brothers. Two men wanting more. Now we are both powerful, but in different ways. I will send a message to him telling him you will be arriving in his city. Do not attempt to contact him. He will contact you.”

Jiyadan frowned, his eyes wandering slightly as he turned this new information over in his mind before at last giving a nod. "I understand. I will be in the city by dawn, in the market. I will be selling ... what I no longer need. I will await your contact."

Zar Calech nodded, pressing his fist into his palm and bowing slightly, one slave freedom maker to another. "I am sorry S'hliyan, that I could not take this man from you. May peace and good fortune ride with you. You do good things for your country. And for the people who live in it." He straightened, then paused. "Beware of my nephew, Ba'radan S'ravsahiv Bhenan. He is not to be underestimated. I will pray he does not find you but if he does, take every precaution for he is ruthless."

Jiyadan returned the gesture and bow but lowered his eyes and replied, "This is not my country, Zar Calech. But I thank you for your help and if ever you are in need I remember it"

The older man's smile was small, a brief sideways tug of one corner of his mouth as if Jiyadan's statement amused him. "Perhaps you think it is not your country S'hliyan, but it is a country that is yours nonetheless. I will remember your offer. Sa masalalt rukandi."

"We will bid our companions a final farewell and leave their mounts in the stables at your.. other estate. For everything, sa masalalt."

He spared a last glance at the man who held the dogs and narrowed his eyes. With a final nod of his head to Zar Calech, he turned and walked away from the gate, rubbing his forehead between his thumb and two fingers. What force set itself against them at every turn that nothing could go smooth and well? He did not want to know what the Scribe's reaction to this latest turn would be, though what could cause the man... Façade... what could cause him to fear Zar Calech's nephew seemingly even more than Khaul troubled Jiyadan more than he cared to think about for the present.
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Postby SilverScribe » Tue Apr 11, 2006 9:49 pm

.

She heard the stirrings and conversation in the tent, though a light night wind had sprung up, it did not interfere with her sharp hearing. When she heard Jiyadan lift the tent flap and announce their readiness, she rose smoothly to her feet and went to the opening.

She listened to his plans and instructions and nodded agreement. Once the horses were loaded, she returned to the tent where the man who had named himself Façade stood, his head down and the blanket she had initially given him held loosely over one arm. With one of the bright silken scarves wound about his middle, it struck her how very much like a Shi'uri he actually did look, though she could still not reconcile his fair colouring.

Wordlessly, she took the blanket from him and he did not look up, nor did he move as she shook the blanket out. She draped it over his bright hair, leaving a goodly amount forward to create a deep, hoodlike covering, then she let the folds fall over his body like a cloak. "Fold it around yourself," she instructed softly, and he silently complied.

Jiyadan gathered the reins of the horses and began to move from the camp. Scribbles stooped and picked the man up in her arms easily, he didn't appear to weigh as much as she had expected, she thought him unusually light for his height and the breadth of his shoulders. Obviously, starvation had been among the ways he had been mistreated, thankfully it sounded like this Zar Calech would see that the man recovered and perhaps, even be returned to the West. The thought of the West caused her mind to turn to the Bowmen. She was looking forward to speaking with them, before she and Jiyadan had to turn their thoughts and efforts to the road East. Her thoughts returned to the present as she had to quicken her pace to catch up to Jiyadan. Silently, she took up her place behind him and the horses.

When they finally stopped at the gates of a modest estate in the city, she made sure the blanket 'hood' obscured the man's face as Jiyadan instructed. Then she stood silently behind Jiyadan as he spoke to first a servant, then to Zar Calech himself. Her attention had been arrested immediately on their arrival by what appeared to be a sentry, standing guard with two fierce looking dogs. When the man swore at the animals, the man in her arms began to tremble, turning his head restlessly and causing the blanket to fall slightly away from his face. She didn't notice this however, as her attention was now focused to the tense conversation between Jiyadan and the man, Zar Calech.

They spoke too rapidly for her to follow even a bare thread of their discussion. But the urgent edge on the men's voices and the reaction of the man she was holding gave birth to a worry that began to gnaw at her belly like cold fire. Something was wrong.

When Jiyadan walked away from the gate, Scribbles' eyes narrowed and her lips parted in frustration. However, she held her tongue and simply turned to follow him. When they were out of sight and earshot of the estates gates, she glanced around. The street was deserted.

She increased her pace until she was level with the Easterling, then sped up, turned and stepped into his path. Jiyadan stopped and looked up, anger flitting across his features. "Tell me what has happened," she asked in a calm whisper. "Why were we not granted entrance and when are we going to be able to speak to Canamarth and the others?"

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Wed Apr 12, 2006 10:09 am

"Why were we not granted entrance and when are we going to be able to speak to Canamarth and the others?"

"We are going to see them now."

"And what of this man?" she pressed.

"Zar Calech will not take him."

"Why?" she demanded.

"I bought him from a man whose cruelty could have killed him," he said. "And back there waits a man whose cruelty will keep him alive to endure whatever he would force onto him. The name is known to me and I will not save the man from Khaul only to turn him over to Bhenan, that ko sa kai inverted snake. I do not wish to imagine why this man," Jiyadan caught himself with a growl and corrected himself, "why Façade would already know of him; know to fear him."

Jiyadan began to walk again, not feeling comfortable staying still in the darkness. "We will take the Bomwen their things and you will have time to speak with them. Then we must travel with all speed to Shyst, the next city, and meet Zar Calech's contact there. Façade will not hinder our journey, we will be hindered far beyond what he could do by the carts and things as it is, and be free of them all before the morning has passed."
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Postby The_Fool » Fri Apr 14, 2006 2:49 am

His fear began to wane as they left the gates of Zar Calech’s residence. The cool air of the Eastron night left less of a chill now that he knew he was not to spend the evening in that place. Trapped where Azis and Izis resided. And where Bhenan undoubtedly waited, thin spidery fingers plucking sinuously at honeyed almonds and sugared dates.

At first his Master remained silent, moving purposefully through the streets, his displeasure at not being able to leave Façade as planned obvious. It swirled about him, a deep and murky haze of silent frustration. Façade, afraid the displeasure would suddenly find an outlet upon his back, shrunk in on himself, keeping a wary eye on the Easterling’s broad shoulders.

Squares of light from open windows, flickering shadows cast by torches at gateposts; made the world they passed through insubstantial. The night breathed out sounds; a cat yowled in the distance, a baby cried, a dog howled in eerie accompaniment to the haunting sound of a foreign instrument. Spice, the perfume of exotic plants and dust hung thick in the air.

After they had passed through the outskirts of the more respectable neighbourhood the pearly-haired woman lowered him to the ground. It took him a moment to find his footing and he stumbled a little, feet hindered by the folds of the blanket. He bent, long fingers untangling cloth from slippers when suddenly words in his own language took his breath from his lips. He stayed silent, fussing with his blanket as he listened, heart beating a hammer in his chest.

"Why were we not granted - to speak to Canamarth and the others?"

" - to see them now."

"And - this man?"

"Zar Calech - take him."

"Why?"


The more they spoke, voices hushed, words flitting upon the dusk to reach the Fool’s pricked ears, the more suspicion began to grow in his mind. It blossomed, petals unfurling in the gloom.

“ - would force onto him. The name is known to me and I will not save - I do not - know to fear him.”

Their conversation ceased and suddenly he was being taken back through the streets again. Façade tugged the blanket over his mouth, tucking his hair beneath the hood as he tried to still his trembling limbs. Where they were going now he did not know.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Apr 15, 2006 7:24 pm

.

"We will take the Bomwen their things and you will have time to speak with them. Then we must travel with all speed to Shyst, the next city, and meet Zar Calech's contact there. Façade will not hinder our journey, we will be hindered far beyond what he could do by the carts and things as it is, and be free of them all before the morning has passed."

Façade will not hinder our journey. She glanced at the blanket swathed man, he wouldn't hinder their journey all right. She'd see to it. He didn't look as if he could walk back to the camp, much less make a fast, hard haul to the next city without falling down and passing out. She'd see to it that he was put in the wagon with the goods, the last thing she wanted was to be delayed by anything, or in this case, anyone.

She nodded silent agreement and taking Façade's arm, began following Jiyadan through the darkened streets. The Easterling went quickly but quietly, their passage seldom marked by much more than a nervous dog barking or a cat hissing as they disturbed its night time hunt.

The houses and gardens they passed gradually became smaller, their walls and metal grille gates less ornate, but clean and in relatively good repair. Soon however, these gave way to even less impressive, unadorned stone walls and heavy wooden gates, some showing signs of wear and age. Around one corner, Jiyadan stopped at an unremarkable set of heavy, iron bound gates and pulled the rope hanging to one side.

A slot in one of the gates opened and a man challenged him quietly. Jiyadan replied rapidly in hushed Eastron, too soft and too fast for Scribbles to catch any of the words. The slot slid shut and the street returned to the relative silence of a city at night.

A few moments later her sharp hearing caught the creak of wood, then the sound of heavy hinges, and one of the large gates swung inward a slight amount. There was just enough space for them to squeeze through and Jiyadan ushered her and Façade through first, following closely behind. She stopped, her hand firmly on Façade's arm, and took a few moments to look around and mark the small courtyard they were in. Behind them, Jiyadan spoke to whoever had opened the door and she heard the gate open farther and the sound of the horses being led in. Then someone slid a heavy wooden bar back into place, but did not come into their field of vision. Jiyadan came up beside them and folded his hands, waiting calmly.

Less than a minute passed and a shadow moved under the arched walkway directly opposite them. A man stepped out into the dim, torchlit courtyard and skirting a small tiled fountain, hurried across to Jiyadan. They spoke quietly together for a few moments, then the man moved away and Jiyadan signalled for them to follow. They were led back across the courtyard, but taken under a different arch than the one the man had appeared from. A short trip down a lamp-lit, stone tiled passage terminated at another set of doors, though these were wrapped with brass that was carved with exotic animal shapes. The man fumbled with keys and after unlocking the door, let them into a small, beautifully tiled foyer that held a faint aroma of incense. The door was locked behind them. Jiyadan raised both eyebrows at the man. He shrugged and spread his hands. "Zar Calech's orders, Sh'liyan, for your friends safety only." After a few thoughtful moments, Jiyadan nodded and the man pointed to the curtained archway. "You will find what you seek there," he said simply, then bowed low. "I will send in food and drink."

Jiyadan pointed to where Façade stood, the Scribe's hand still firmly holding his blanketed arm. " Take my slave and put him somewhere secure. I will collect him when my business here is concluded. Then bring in everything from my horses and pile it here." The man bowed again and approached where the Scribe stood with Façade. "You will go with this man," Jiyadan told Façade, his voice purposely cold. "I will send for you later." Scribbles let go of Façade's arm and watched as the shrouded Westron shuffled off after Zar Calech's servant.

"Shall we?" Jiyadan said, then pulled the heavy silken drape aside and entered the room beyond. She followed, then stopped at the threshold, amazed.

The room was unexpected, nothing like what the exterior of the large house would have suggested. Instead of spartan utility, it was lit with a myriad of brass lamps, their filligree patterns throwing fantastic shapes on the ornate walls. The floor was covered with luxurious carpets and piles of pillows and cushions. Scattered here and there were a few low benches and tables. Vases of fresh flowers bloomed in niches along the walls, incense scented the air and somewhere was the sound of soft music being played. Scribbles looked around, there were a lot of women in the room and the first thing she noticed is that they were of many differing races. Finally, her eyes found the familiar faces she sought. Canamarth was sipping something from a delicate goblet while Bardhwyn was bent over a piece of parchment, absorbed in writing something. She didn't see Menon right away, until a burst of feminine laughter from one side of the room drew her eye. The Rider was doing something with his hands, and it wasn't until she moved farther into the room that she realized he was making shadow puppets on the wall.

She looked at Jiyadan, one eyebrow climbing high. "Zar Calech put them in a harem?" she asked.

.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Apr 29, 2006 4:52 pm

((OOC: okay, second half of BAP as promised . . . my thanks as always to elengil for Jiyadan's parts . . . er . . . bits . . . er, ack, you know. . . . )) ;)

IC:

"Would you look for them here?" Jiyadan asked with a half chuckle. "I imagine that Menon, at least, would find little to complain of."

She answered him with a faint, fleeting grin. "Agreed." Both Canamarth and Bardhwyn had noticed their entrance, and she looked around the room again, trying to find a clear space that would give them even a bare modicum of privacy. Canamarth solved the puzzle for her.

"There is a small, private garden through some doors behind that tapestry," she said quietly. Scribbles nodded and they skirted the perimeter of the room to the wall opposite, where the intricately woven hanging the Mistress Archer had indicated hung. When they had gone through the arched double doors, Canamarth led them to the farthest stone wall, which was thickly hung with delicately scented flowering vines. Several torches burned in high stands. A small stone fountain shaped like a fully caparisoned oliphaunt gurgled and splashed in a wide, round, brightly tiled basin a few feet out from the garden wall, which would effectively cover their conversation, provided they kept their voices low.

Canamarth sank down onto a wide stone bench set opposite the fountain and against the flowering vines while Bardhwyn perched on the low, wide edge of the fountain's basin itself. Scribbles sat next to her, Menon set himself down next to the Mistress Archer and Jiyadan stood next to them, halfway between the bench and the fountain.

"How do you fare?" Scribbles quietly asked the two women, her gaze going from Bardhwyn's face to Canamarth's, noting the fatigue that still showed on them both. "Better for a night's rest," Canamarth answered. "But the headache persists, Scribe." Scribbles nodded. "Aye, so it is with Delkarnoth. He never touches a mind without leaving pain behind. But you are free of him, Mistress Archer. I promise you, the pain will fade a little more each day." Canamarth smiled gamely. "How long?" she asked and Scribbles shrugged briefly. "My best guess is a week or so," she replied, "not more than two."

"Your best guess?" the Mistress Archer echoed. "You know this sorcerer so well, and you cannot say more than that?" Scribbles' face went stony. " For me, it is . . . different," she answered softly. "I am not free of him, so I can only guess at how soon the pain will fade for one who is. I can leave you some herbs that will dull the pain and help you sleep. Otherwise, I am sorry."

Canamarth closed her eyes briefly. "Forgive me Scribe, I did not understand, but I do now. Thank you . . for everything." Scribbles nodded, then looked to Bardhwyn, the unspoken question obvious in the single raised eyebrow. Bardhyn shrugged. "The headache has gone, but I feel . . . strangely weak, wrung out," she said quietly. "I know it's only temporary though, I've felt this way before, with some of Ani-La's teachings. I'm sure I'll be fine in a few days, don't worry about me." Scribbles raked one hand through her hair. "But I do worry about you Archer. It is Ani-La and your stong tie to her that will be dangerous to you both here in the east. And moreso now, now that the Spider knows of it. Be on your guard, and if Ani-La speaks to your mind again, warn her. Even though I know she is wise, Delkarnoth is nearly as old as Arda and powerful. He is not to be trifled with, please, just warn her . . . for me." Bardhwyn nodded gravely. "Aye Scribe, though I think I will be telling her much she already knows." Scribbles shrugged. "True enough, but the warning will not go amiss nonetheless."

She looked next to Menon who grinned as he held up a hand. "I am well, Scribe," he said simply then looked over at Jiyadan. "What now?" he asked bluntly. "While the company is pleasant, this golden imprisonment is not."

"If you wish to see it as a prison, then at least understand it is, but from a worse fate. I would not call it a prison. It is a place to heal in safety. Think of it as your hospital."

Scribbles knew that the Rider chafed at the inactivity and the confinement but she had to agree with Jiyadan. Here at least they would be well fed and protected. They could rest properly, away from dangerous prying eyes and exposure to the harsher elements of the open country.

Menon scowled but Canamarth reached out and touched his arm lightly. "Peace Rider, we will be leaving this place soon enough, but Bardhwyn and I need to rest and regain our strength."

Jiyadan nodded his head in agreement. "The Mistress Archer is right," he said. "When you have all healed, Zar Calekh can have you smuggled out of the city. I trust you have some ability at stealth? You can follow after, for doubtless we will be in need of every blade we can find."

Menon bent forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Aye, that's well enough, but how and where will we find you?" he asked. Jiyadan reached into his robes and got down onto one knee, spreading something out on the flagstones in front of him. They all leaned in to see in the flickering torchlight.

"Here is a rough map of the region. This is the town we are in," he said, his finger tapping at the map. "The road the Scribe and I will follow will take us here, to Shyst. It is not a day's ride and we hope to make it by morning. It lays at one of the main roads of Rhun spanning North to South. From there we will turn North towards the captial." He traced the road with his finger.

"If you stay off the main roads, you should encounter little trouble. Stick to the hills, they will hide many things from prying eyes."

"The hills, Jiyadan?" Scribbles asked softly. "What of the nomads?"

Jiyadan folded the map and handed it to the Mistress Archer, then looked around at all their faces in turn. "Zar Calekh will arrange everything, the nomads will not be a concern, trust me." He rose smoothly to his feet. "I have arranged for all your belongings to be brought here to you. I will check on that now." He glanced at the Scribe, knowing that she wished a few moments with the Bowmen herself, then turned on his heel and left the garden.

When he had gone, Scribbles turned to Bardhwyn. "I would feel the better with your bow and your swordarm at my back," she said softly, "but I know it would be more harm to you than good to me." Bardhwyn smiled, but there were still lines of pain and fatigue around her mouth. "Would that I could go with you tonight," she answered, "but I can barely bend a bow right now. But don't worry, we'll only be a few days behind you."

Scribbles smiled sadly. "Patience Archer, for it may be a bit more than a few days, remember the Lady Canamarth needs rest and time as well, the headaches are not to be trifled with." She searched Bardhwyn's face for a few moments, a sudden sense of premonition and dread weighing heavily on her heart. Would Zar Calekh get them out of the city safely? Would they find their way without detection? Or would they be discovered and find themselves truly enslaved or worse, dead? She shook the feeling off. "I have no doubt we will meet up again very soon. Just promise me you will take care, Archer."

Bardhwyn grinned and followed as Scribbles rose smoothly to her feet. "You have my word, Scribbles. We will find you." She held out her hand and Scribbles took her wrist quickly, firmly, then released her and turned to Canamarth. "May the Valar guard your backs," she said, then clasped wrists with both her and Menon in turn. "Now come, I think the servant who showed us in said something about food and drink, and I for one, am hungry enough to eat a horse."

Menon snorted. "Not on my watch," he growled, then laughed as they made their way back into the building.

The room was deserted except for Jiyadan and a few servants, who were busily laying out the promised food and drink. "It only appears a harem," he said in answer to the Scribe's questioning look. "You do not sleep here either, do you?" he asked Menon, who flushed, then shook his head. "More's the pity, no," he answered glumly. "They have given me a private room and even have the audacity to lock the women's doors." Scribbles couldn't help but laugh, then sobered as Jiyadan gestured to her.

"We must go Scribe, we have no time to stop," he said, his voice urgent. She looked longingly at the food, the aromas making her stomach growl. The fish stew and rice seemed an awfully long time ago . . . but she knew that they had a hard ride ahead of them and they still had to retrieve the other Westron and then get back to and strike their camp. "Fine," she growled in mock annoyance, "but when we get to Shyst, you're buying me breakfast."

.
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Postby Frelga » Sat Apr 29, 2006 10:13 pm

Tarek broke out from behind the rose hedge like a hare and stumbled, almost tumbling down between Givi and Kethmehat.

"What's the matter, little brother?" Givi exclaimed. The boy was not easily frightened, but now he trembled, pale and wide-eyed.

"He's here! Curse the wicked, needle-tongued, string-spined…"

"Who?"

"The lord's 'nephew', may he turn into an onion and live with his head underground, may his toes rot and fingers fall off."

"Bhenan is here?" Kethmehat's alarmed face echoed the boy's expression. "What evil timing, with the Westron slave about to come here. Givi, it would be best if Tarek and I both leave the house quickly. He is a twisted little snake, who fears women and torments boys. There will be trouble."

"If he begins trouble, I can end it for you," Givi said grimly, hand on the hilt of his sword.

"No! He must not be harmed, not in this house. His father has great influence. We should go."

"But I must wait for S'hliyan," Givi protested.

"That's the news I bear," Tarek put in. "Bhenan desires this Westron slave, the earthworm that he is. The lord can't take in the man. He sent this S'hliyan and his guard on the way to the safe house of which you know, brother. Sim is getting your horse ready with supplies that the lord wishes to give to them. He will lead the horse out, as if he is a servant setting on a lord's errand, and I don't envy him, passing in front of those two hounds of hell. I am to lead you and the lady out the garden gate so you will not be seen."

"Which safe house?" Givi saw a grin on the boy's face and shook his head with a laugh. "Ah. That one. Little imp, lead the way. Will the lord be safe if I leave?"

"As safe as he ever is," Tarek promised.

Zar Calech, for all the opulence of his house, lived on a sword's edge. All he possessed, from the fragrant rose hedges to rings on his fingers and his own head could be lost in a heartbeat with one careless word. Yet every day found him no less resolute to risk everything for the sake of those who had nothing at all. The house of such a man had many secret ways and more than one exit.

Givi followed the boy down the garden paths that never once came in view of the windows or the courtyard. The low gate opened without sound on well-oiled hinges. The back alley was narrow and dark. It led them to a wider street where they stopped to wait. Kethmehat wrapped her shawls around her and stood tense, one hand on Givi's arm. At last the hoof beats came, a dull echo of a slow walk. Sim entered the alley, leading two horses.

"Take the lady home, brother," the big man said to Givi. "I cannot leave the lord tonight, but it is best if Tarek stays with her until our 'guest' removes his poisonous breath from the house. Is it true that you mean to follow that slaver's road?"

"I am. What I don't mean to do is stand here and answer questions until the sun comes up. Take care of yourself and your lord, will you, Sim?"

"I will. Go in peace, brother, and may your road be shadowed by wings of the Guardian."

The two men embraced. Sim helped his lady into the saddle and lifted Tarek behind her. Givi swung up and ran a hand over the saddlebags. From the feel of it, he was ready for a long journey. His blue robe and headscarf were rolled up and stuffed into one of the bags - Givi of the Ash-Gareh packed away, Givi the Easterling riding through the city.

He left Kethmehat at the doors of her house, small and elegant, not far from that of the lord. Tarek squeezed Givi in a fierce hug, and walked away, leading the lady's horse to the stables. But Kethmehat stood with the singer in the soft light of the lantern. "Will you come back?" she asked.

"Surely I will," Givi replied, teeth flashing. "Have you no faith in me, lady?"

"Yes, of course. But… will you come here? The Westerners will go home once their errand is done. Will you go back with them?"

The singer was silent. He lifted his head to look over the walls and roofs, over wide plains and rolling hills, beyond the sea. Home. "I don't know," he said at last. "It is a long road. Perhaps I will."

"Then go with my blessing, dear friend," Kethmehat whispered. She faced Givi, light hand on his shoulder, and brushed a kiss on his cheek. His eyes closed as he sighed. Her fingers wound into his hair, her lips pressed against his; the kiss was long and hot as the road he was taking. And then she stepped back and entered the house and shut the door behind her.

His lips tingling and his heart pounding, Givi rode down the dark streets. Soon he stood before the heavy iron gate, leaning from the saddle to pull on the bell rope. A hushed conversation later, he was led across the yard, down a stone passage, and through the brass-bound doors. He came to the tiled foyer, but instead of passing through the heavy drape the singer turned into a small alcove. There he sat on a stone bench. A glass of wine and a plate of sweets and dried fruit was brought there. In that pleasant company Givi waited for Jiyadan and Scribe.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sun Apr 30, 2006 8:13 am

Jiyadan stopped with a sigh and nodded. Indeed, it would be long before they tasted food again, and the man.. Façade, he would need it more than either of them. "We can not stay, though," he said. "We will take some with us."

Taking one of the napkins, feeling Zar Calekh would understand, he filled it with the items that would travel easiest, some meat, rolls, cheese and some of the heartier fruits, then wrapped it all up in a bundle and tied it. "This should hold the two of you until we reach the city."

"What of yourself?" she asked. He sighed, he had not meant to slight her. "I am not hungry," he said simply and bowed to the Bowmen. "Heal quickly, but heal completely," he murmured. "May A'imha guide your recovery and your journey."

With that he turned and left the room, collecting Façade and eager to be rid of the last of his own charade. Now that the other slaves were gone, he did not like having to keep the appearance up, nor did he at all enjoy being called 'master' by western lips. With any luck the man would sleep all the way to Shyst and then he would not have to bear it further.

When he appeared, led by the guard, Jiyadan felt his chest clench in guilt and anguish over the man's appearance once again. He had hoped to leave him here, hoped to see him healing already, not put to a hard journey and a continued life of pain, uncertainty and fear.

He handed the bundle of food to Façade. "Here, carry this," he said, half-distracted, until the murmured "yes, master" came and he flinched again. Without a word he led the man back out to the courtyard, the Scribe bringing up the rear. When they arrived, he waited to collect their horses but instead he saw the unmistakable gait of his former 'guest' coming towards them.

Jiyadan's frown deepened and he stood with a somewhat commanding air, waiting for the man to come to a halt before him. "What do you want, nomad?" he said, but not angry. Truth be told he was in fact just tired and wanting to be rid of further trouble and on his way.
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Postby Frelga » Sun Apr 30, 2006 1:49 pm

"The name is Givi. Givi Sharvili of Lamedon, as Scribe knows. Zar Calekh sends his greetings and a few supplies for your journey." Givi pointed to his horse, which stood still saddled and packed.

Jiyadan cursed inwardly. He had hoped as few people as possible would know of his true nature. Outwardly, though, he gave a curt nod. "He has my eternal gratitude. Thank you, Givi of Lamedon."

Givi threw a quick look from Scribe to the emaciated, bowed man he guessed to be the Westron slave. He didn't dare to use Jiyadan's name in his hearing, not knowing where they would be able to leave him behind. But there was no time for anything but direct talk. Night was too short for playing cat and mouse with words. "I have done nothing for you - yet. I would, if I may. I would take the road with you and Scribe," Givi said. "The blue robe of the Ash-Gareh would keep you safe from other raiders, at least. We do not suffer competition."

Jiyadan waved his hand dismissively. "Your help is not required," he said simply. "We have no need to be further burdened -"

"Perhaps 'Master' should consider the offer more closely," the Scribe said, cutting him off. Jiyadan scowled at her.

"We are in greater need of help now, are we not?"

Jiyadan looked back to the nomad. "I cannot wait for your leg to heal from whatever injuries you have taken."

A moment of stillness passed, then Givi laughed. "My injury is ten years old - Master. I was in many battles since I received it, in the West and in the East, as Scribe heard me tell. In any case, you are not running a race, and my horse is not lame. You will have to cross the plains, and I know the ways and the hidden wells of the Ash-Gareh."

The expression that crossed Jiyadan's face at the word 'master' was unmistakable. Something akin to 'call me that again at your peril.' He would have spoken but the Scribe leaned over and hissed a few words in his ear that set his jaw but elicited no other response except silent contemplation for a moment.

At last Jiyadan looked up at the hillman again, his eyes narrowing. "You wield a sword well then?" Half question but mostly statement.

"Yes, and bow too, among other things," Givi replied. Modesty was not what he considered a virtue and besides it was true. Even among the Ash-Gareh there were few men who could rival his skill in the saddle, with bow or sword.

"And you believe this quest to be worth your life?" Jiyadan murmured softly.

Givi met the other man's eyes. "I do. And I believe what Zar Calekh told me - that you are the man to see it through. If he trusts you that much, then I will, too."

Jiyadan straightened at this revelation, his face turning grave. He turned slightly as he heard their own horses being led back to them, Nothea's coat glistening even in the dim courtyard, the torches casting bizarre shadows about the walls. He thanked the guard who brought them, then turned his eyes back to the nomad. "There is much to be done and little time to do it. We must be in Shyst by morning," he said.

Turning to the Scribe, he gave a nod in Façade's direction. "We will ride out."

Givi gave a quick nod. A moment later he was up in the saddle. The gates swung open and he followed Jiyadan into the dark streets.

OOC: Thanks to Elengil for Jiyadan's lines.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun Apr 30, 2006 11:47 pm

The wait for his Master had been tense and unsettling. With too much time to think Façade had been setting his dishevelled mind to work upon his former suspicion. Yet he was not certain enough to speak up or act upon it. He had become timid, unbelieving in his own mental prowess, conforming instead to the idea that he could not think beyond what his Master thought for him. Plucking agitatedly at the corner of the blanket he ignored the offers of food and water and chewed instead at his bottom lip. He had not been told he could eat. Why they were offering him food in the first place was beyond him.

After some time he was collected and returned to the foyer where S’hliyan and his tall female warrior waited. He kept his eyes on the floor, tugging the blanket back over his honey-blond hair and wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. There was food in here too, the smell tempting and heavy in the air. Fresh bread he thought he could detect, a rich yeasty scent.

"Here, carry this."

A bundle was thrust into his hands, the smell intensified so that there could be no mistaking what lay beyond the cloth. It was torture, and Façade closed his eyes, sucking in a deep breath from his mouth as he rapidly folded the heavy blanket over the bundle in an attempt to block out the smell. His stomach growled a little and he flinched, ready for a harsh reprimand, but it seemed Master had not heard it. Not heard it, or chosen to ignore it. Suspicion tugged once more at the Fool.

In the courtyard they were delayed. The man was unfamiliar to Façade, and he made a concentrated effort not to stare. Instead he focused on a point upon his Master’s heels, frustrated hands revealing and concealing the bundle of food in a distracted manner throughout their conversation. By all appearances Façade’s mind was elsewhere, but he was listening, feeding that nagging doubt that was blossoming within.

After it was decided that the nomad should join them S’hliyan ordered them to ride out. Façade cast a panicked glance at the woman, wondering if she would let him know what he was to do. His gaze came too late. She had already turned from him and was swinging herself into the saddle. The nomad collected his reigns and did the same, leaving only Master and slave upon the ground. Façade swallowed, his hands trembling a little. He would be made to walk. Walk or be dragged behind.

“Get up.” The command was firm but not cruel. Façade risked a glance at S’hliyan from beneath his lashes, clutching the bundle of food to his chest as if it were a shield. The Easterling made a beckoning gesture, steadying his horse and laying a hand upon the stirrup. “Now Façade. We are leaving.”

“Y-yes Master,” he stammered, astonished. Shuffling forward he mounted as best he could. The stiffness caused by his recent beating hindered his usually graceful movements into the saddle, the bundle of food held under one arm. If he had not been familiar with horses he did not think he would have been able to make it up onto the horse’s back at all. S’hliyan said nothing, instead he simply mounted up behind Façade, taking the reins and nudging the stallion into a walk. Seated as he was between his Master’s arms the Fool turned rigid with fear, every muscle tense. The horse, sensing his disquiet snorted and tossed his head. However, a few words from S’hliyan’s lips were enough to still it and together the party made their way out of the courtyard and towards the city gates.

The smell of the camp reached them as they left the city walls. Smoke from the fires, the fragrance of incense from Slaver’s personal tents wafting and intermingling with the odour of unwashed flesh and stench of camels. A dog suffering from mange slunk about the outskirts, scavenging for fragments of forgotten meals.

S’hliyan rode into their barren camp, casting only a glance behind him to ensure his companions progress before dismounting. He held the horse’s head, allowing the Fool to dismount before passing the reins to him and heading for his tent. Façade was about to move when the iron grip of the pearly-haired bodyguard closed about his fingers.

“I will take the horse,” she said simply. The look she gave him made it clear she did not think him fit for heavy labour. He cleared his throat softly, delicate fingers making an attempt to unfasten himself.

“I,” he cast a glance S’hliyan’s way, catching the last of his back as he ducked into the tent’s interior, “I must attend Master. I do not wish him to be angry with me.”

“He will not be angry,” the woman replied. “You may rest instead.” She seemed distracted. Undoubtedly she wished to speak to S’hliyan alone. About things Façade should not overhear. Things that had already come to him on a wayward breeze in the streets of Mahlaad just moments ago. Things that threw the ‘Slaver’s’ credability into jeopardy. Yet it was these very things that Façade needed to know. What if he were free? Free and he didn’t even know it! To one side the nomad quietly tended to his own mount, undoubtedly content to let the Scribe deal to the peace of the campground.

“I do not wish to be punished for incompetence.” He kept his voice low, a husky whisper of subservience. “Please...maybe he is a good Master. Kind if I attend him diligently.”

“He is a kind Master,” she said flatly. “You have nothing to fear if you rest now. You will need it in any case. You are weak and we leave here later tonight.”

Façade was getting desperate. His mind spun, grasping for a new ploy. He wet cracked lips and narrowed his kohl-rimmed eyes, remembering suddenly the bickering of the female slaves in Khaül’s caravan. “You just want his favour. You wish to be his favourite, to claim all the privileges for yourself!” The hiss in his voice was acidic, a perfect mimic of outrage. “You are paid! I am his slave. I am the one who will ensure he is comfortable. Don’t you try to take this from me. It’s mine. It’s my right!” The fanatical pitch as his voice cracked in hysterical insistence caused the woman to raise both eyebrows and release him. With one last well-placed glare over his shoulder Façade limped over to S’hliyan’s tent and slipped inside.

He kept his head down, by all appearances simpering at his Master’s presence. S’hliyan looked up as he entered, frowning.

“I do not require your assistance.”

His voice was firm, but it lacked the violent conviction of the slavers Façade had come to know so intimately.

“Yes Master,” he replied, yet he did not leave. Instead he came forward and began to plump the cushions of S’hliyan’s bed. He winced a little as he stretched too far, aggravating the cracked rib that had been Khaül’s parting gift.

“Façade.”

His name came in two pitches, a clear but weak warning.

“Master,” he whimpered, cowering a little and pulling one of the cushions close to his chest as if to shield himself from an anticipated attack. “Please Master, I want to help. I want to be a good slave. I can help you pack. I can make you mint tea. I can remove your boots. I can comb your hair. I can do many things. Don’t send me away.” There was a child-like desperation in his words, a fragile need for stability that was so artfully executed nobody could ever have known it was fiction.

Sly and fox-like Façade waited, watching the man he suspected. Waiting for the ice to crack and reveal what lay beneath the surface. He was the golden snake. And he was shedding his outer skin.
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Postby Jiyadan » Tue May 02, 2006 8:38 pm

Jiyadan had gone immediately to his tent and began to pack things away for the journey, sorting the last of what needed to be sold with what would remain with them. He heard an odd sort of argument outside but it did not last for more than a moment before Façade came skulking into his tent like a beaten dog looking to regain its master's pleasure.

Despite his assurances to the contrary, the man continued to insist he could tend to him, rambling off a long list until at last Jiyadan turned and leveled a even but stern gaze at him. "What do you want, Façade?"

He blinked those strangely coloured eyes at him and was silent for some time, as if uncertain or afraid. “I don’t want to be sold,” he said finally, a slight tremor marking the final word as his thin, delicate hands pressed lightly to his collarbone where bruises had yet to heal. He looked down then, turning pale and sallow, as if he were waiting to be punished for his impudence. Only the merest glint of those amber-brown eyes could be seen, watching Jiyadan from beneath a ragged veil of blond hair.

"You are not being sold," he said simply. Turning his attention back to the packs before him he began to thrust things inside once again. "Sleep while you can," he added. "We are leaving soon and I do not know how much sleep you will get bouncing in the back of a wagon."

“Yes, Master. I have slept Master,” Façade replied. “I am not tired.” He began to pull the cushions of Jiyadan’s bed aside, stacking them in a pile as he systematically began to dismantle it.

"I do not want you to do that," he said firmly. "If you are not tired then you may sit quietly, or eat something. You are in no condition to work."

The Westron turned to look at him then, suspicion flaring in his eyes though he still would not look at Jiyadan directly. “If I am not fit to work Master,” he murmured softly, “then why do you not wish to sell me?”

"You have injuries I've neither the time nor skill to tend," Jiyadan said, distracted with the packing still. He picked up two jars and opened each, inspecting the contents before putting one in his pack and the other with the items to be sold. "You will be left in the care of one who does."

The corner of the Fool’s mouth twitched. The tiniest of movements though it conveyed his repressed annoyance. He did not cease to dismantle the bed, his hands moving, head bowed over his task. If he had thoughts on the subject he did not voice them, his silence a judgement that hung heavy within the tent.

Jiyadan had been lost both in thought and in his task. A few minutes passed in silence until he looked up to see Façade still sorting his bedding. "STOP!" he finally yelled, exasperated.

Façade flinched at the volume of the command, instantly dropping the blanket he had been folding as if the fabric burnt. His eyes widened into real fear, panic overriding any other instinct as he ducked away from Jiyadan in one swift, subservient motion, covering his head with his arms. The little whimper that formed on his lips was so small it was barely audible. “Sorry Master,” he spoke in Eastron. “I didn’t... Please don’t hurt me.”

Jiyadan took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as one hand came to rub his forehead. He gathered his nerves for what he must do next. After a moment he spoke, his voice soft again, calm. "I am giving you an order, Façade. I want you to do nothing, do you understand? You are worthless if you are damaged." The words made his stomach turn, they tasted bitter on his lips, but the man needed to stop pushing himself or he would exacerbate his already grievous injuries. "Now, I want you to sit and rest and do nothing."

“Soy sin valor,” (I am worthless) Façade whispered to himself in the Shi’uri tongue, slender fingers slipping over his hair to rest in his lap. Downcast, he stared moodily at the half-finished task before him. He was too afraid to push Jiyadan further, to afraid to see if the mask he suspected was real.

Few words could have stabbed Jiyadan harder but what could he say now? His own task lay untouched before him as he stared at the items still waiting to be sorted, not wanting to look at Façade, to see what he had just done to the man's spirit. 'Soy sin valor,' he repeated silently, then his eyes widened again and he looked back up. "Usted Shi'uri." (You are a gypsy.)

Façade did not look at him; his gaze still focused on some spot before him. “Why do you speak to me with respect?” he whispered painfully. "I am your slave." The formal ‘usted’ struck him as odd, a mockery.

Jiyadan ignored the question, for the only answer was one he could not give. "How did you come to speak the Shi'uri language? They do not easily suffer outsiders among them."

A sudden flash of anger flared in the Westron’s eyes, as if he wished to ask the same question of Jiyadan himself. Instead he stayed silent, fury radiating off him in waves. “Soy Shi’uri,” (I am Shi’uri) he said through gritted teeth, the rich gypsy ‘R’ rolling off his tongue. “Mas soy un esclavo.” (Yet I am a slave)

Jiyadan wanted to ask him how it was he had come to be either, but there was no time for such things. He could not say the words that were on his mind, on his heart to speak. Instead he gave an annoyed growl and returned to shoving things into his pack. Already he could hear outside the other tent being taken down and his own would follow in a few minutes. "You are a slave," he confirmed after a moment, feeling sick at doing so. "And so you will do what I tell you. That means you will sit and do nothing and not hurt yourself further."

Ah, Façade thought, but I am not so sure you are my Master. Yet he said nothing, scooting away from the bed and the task he had left uncompleted. “I am a disappointment to you,” he said simply, a faint smile gracing his lips as he stared eerily into space as if he spoke to the air itself and not Jiyadan. “Cuán triste. (How sad) I do not think I will last long.”

He did not answer, merely set to his task with renewed effort until the remaining items had been sorted and stored. With a slight huff, he hoisted two of the heavier packs and carried them out to stow them in the cart, noting that most of the camp was now struck. "Just a few more things and the other tent will be ready to come down," he said. "Then we must fly and race the sun to Shyst."

Ducking back into the tent, he lifted his own pack and slung it over one shoulder then gathered up the bedding that Façade had been fidgeting with. "Up with you now," he said. "The tent will come down and I don't want it landing on your head."

Façade rose obediently, all previous anger seeming to have melted off him like water. Yet there was something in his manner that hinted he was not so afraid of Jiyadan as he should have been, something aloof in the set of his chin that was almost feline. Without a word he did exited the tent, pausing at the doorway to hold the tent flap open for Jiyadan.

Without thinking, Jiyadan said, "thank you," carrying the last of the innards of his tent to the cart. He arranged the bedding for Façade hoping the pillows might absorb the brunt of whatever shock the journey might give his body, then motioned for him to climb up.

It came as such a shock that for some minutes Façade could not even think to react. His jaw dropped in disbelief, eyes following Jiyadan before he hastily dropped the tent flap to hurry after him, not wanting to be scolded for dallying. He paused at the edge of the cart, one hand resting upon the wood as he turned to look at the Easterling, those amber eyes intense as he narrowed them slightly, staring at Jiyadan properly for the first time without hesitation and without fear. “Ti no es lo que usted dice que ti es,” (You are not what you say you are) he hissed suddenly. He smiled then, a mocking curve of his mouth as he spoke the next word in Eastron. “Vodi” (Master)

Jiyadan matched his gaze, and while his eyes did not hold the angry threat of a slaver, they were stern and not to be trifled with. He said nothing. It did not matter if the man knew, after all. By morning he would be left in another's care and the three of them would be on their way. Between then and now there were still things to be done.

Breaking the gaze, he turned to the Scribe. "Is that the last of it?" he asked, nodding to the tent that yet stood.

"Aye, I believe it is," she replied as she and the nomad Givi headed for it to break it down.

"Good. I will harness the horses. I will take this cart, you take the other. Givi, if you would be so good as to ride point?"

The nomad nodded, his head dipping in a shallow bow. Turning back to Façade he nodded to the cart again. "Get in; lay low, and rest."
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat May 06, 2006 12:12 am

((OOC: Once again, my thanks to elengil for Jiyadan's lines. ;)

IC:

“You just want his favour. You wish to be his favourite, to claim all the privileges for yourself! You are paid! I am his slave. I am the one who will ensure he is comfortable. Don’t you try to take this from me. It’s mine. It’s my right!”

Both eyebrows climbed high under the pearly hair as Scribbles let go and watched the scrawny Westron limp to Jiyadan's tent. She sighed quietly to herself. 'The sooner we see the back of that sa kai wastrel, the better,' she thought, then silently turned to see the nomad watching as well, his face unreadable in the dim, clouded moonlight.

"We will strike the other tent and load the wagons, I will show you what goes in which one," she said evenly, and Givi nodded. Together, they worked steadily, everything that would be sold went in the larger of the two wagons, the one that had belonged to the slaver, Yitak. The few things they would keep went into the smaller one. Scribbles pointedly listened to the snatches of conversation that drifted from Jiyadan's tent, snatches too low for human ears, but clear to her sharp peredhel hearing. She smiled to herself at the exasperated tone in Jiyadan's voice, finally it was someone else that would be the burr under the Easterling's saddle . . .

They were nearly finished loading when Jiyadan came out of his tent and threw his belongings on the smaller wagon. "Just a few more things and the other tent will be ready to come down," he said. "Then we must fly and race the sun to Shyst." Scribbles grunted agreement as she picked up a heavy burlap sack, filled with the extra cooking gear, and put it onto the larger wagon.

Jiyadan reappeared, with the Westron in tow and Scribbles' face showed nothing as the Easterling arranged his bedding in the last small, clear space on the small wagon floor then motioned for the slave to get onto it. It also showed nothing when the slave paused to hiss softly . . . “Ti no es lo que usted dice que ti es,” in the tongue of the Shi'uri. He smirked as he added the Eastron word for Master, but Jiyadan said nothing. Instead he turned to her and the nomad with last instructions.

They struck Jiyadan's empty tent quickly, also loading it onto the larger wagon, simply because there was no more room on the smaller one, what with the blond wastrel and his padded 'bower'. There was something about him that rankled, the sly look in his eyes, the flinching, creeping way he had about him. Any slave made her skin crawl but to see a Westron act thus rubbed her last nerve raw.

A high, warning whistle from her horse brought her around. Jiyadan was swearing as the tall grey warhorse reared and shook its head, yanking the lead rope out of the Easterlings hands. Jiyadan's horse had been harnessed with one of Yitak's, and the other of the slaver's horses also stood calmly in the traces. But the big warhorse was having none of it and had trotted a few yards away, where he stood, twitching his ears and pawing the ground with one sharp hoof.

She threw the bag of tent pegs onto the wagon and hurried to the front. Putting two fingers in her mouth, she blew a deceptively soft, ululating whistle. The grey stallion's ears went up but he did not move. She walked across the intervening distance, calling to him quietly in Sindarin. When she had approached, he butted her in the chest and snorted indignantly. She laughed softly and stoked the long, velvet muzzle. "Aye old son, you're no draft horse 'tis true, but I need your strength in the traces, just for what is left of the night. Tomorrow, I promise, you will will be free of the wagon." He snuffled at her hair, then nipped her on the shoulder but allowed himself to be led back. She held up a hand as Jiyadan stepped forward.

"I will harness him," she said, then nodded towards the smaller wagon. "Perhaps check on the Westron, see he is secure and won't bounce right out of that cart once we are on the road."

Jiyadan cast a glance to where Facade was settling himself among the pillows. "I have.. attempted to make him comfortable," he said, rubbing a hand across his face.

"He is in very poor shape," she said gently, her hands busy with the traces and buckles. " I can only guess at what his real injuries are. And there is the harak anan. He will soon be very sick."

"Then we must hurry," Jiyadan answered simply, his eyes still on Facade.

"Agreed," she answered, gathering the traces. "I will follow your wagon then."

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sat May 06, 2006 5:25 pm

Jiyadan waited until Givi had mounted and rode up beside him. "Will your people cause any trouble?" he asked as he climbed up onto the seat of the smaller wagon.

"Not if I am with you, to speak for you," the nomad said.

Jiyadan gave a nod of his head. "Good. We must make Shyst before morning has passed."

"That is hours of hard riding, and you are slowed by two wagons."

"Yes I know, but it must be done. So let us be to it."

The nomad rode out ahead and Jiyadan looked back and down at where Facade was nestled among the cushions now. The look the man gave him was unsettling. It was obvious he knew Jiyadan was not as he claimed, and yet the reality seemed to have snapped the man's sanity.

With a sigh, he looked forward again and slapped his reigns down on the horses' backs. The wagon lurched forward before settling into the steady rhythm of the journey, the Scribe coming up behind in single file. With another glance back at Facade, Jiyadan wondered how badly his mind had been broken. Perhaps even more so than his body. He hoped to A'imha that the contact of Zar Calekh's had physicians for both.

The noise and smell of the city outskirts fell behind and Jiyadan felt as if a burden had been lifted from him shoulders, relief flooding him as they left the last of the hated charade behind. His eyes glanced to the wrapping at his arm. Some fresh blood had seeped through the bandages where the cuts had been pulled while trying to deal with the Scribe's horse. Now his whole arm was paining him as he held the reigns taught to keep the horses under control.

His other arm was beginning to grow sore also, the previous gashes he had made still not fully healed, though at least a few days older. A constant reminder to him of the part he had played, a constant penance.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun May 07, 2006 4:40 am

The creak of the wagon was familiar. The click of the tongue to urge the horses on, the rumble of the wheels on the earth. The sound of the slaves was missing, and Façade, curled up amongst the cushions and bedding of the band that had claimed him, found that he missed their melody. Distractedly he gnawed upon a thumbnail, narrowed eyes fixed upon the back of the man who called himself ‘Master S’hliyan’.

He was certain now that the Easterling was no more slaver than he was himself. Yet what he was to do with this information eluded him. If the man meant to save him and set him free, then what was the purpose behind him continuing his charade? Surely now that Façade had made his suspicions clear he would cave and confess? The only possible conclusion was that he had no intention of freeing him. That the man meant to heal him was in fact the next man to whom he would be required to scrape and kneel.

Façade shook his head, tossing it like a horse with a fly as a light sweat formed upon his brow. He felt confused, more so than he should. It was as if a curtain of gauze covered everything, obscuring the sharper edges of his shattered mind. Disturbed the Fool brushed a hand across his brow and frowned. He would not allow himself to be used. Not again. If he were indeed travelling with a snake in the grass, an actor in a cruel farce, he intended to keep the freedom Fate had for this small time granted him. By all the gods in every man’s heaven he would fight tooth and nail against any more imprisonment in this unjust country of dirt and foreign blood.

A shiver rattled his teeth and unconsciously he wrapped his arms about himself, rubbing warmth into his skin. An itch was starting to make itself known. A suppressed need that danced teasingly on the edges of sanity. He wiped more sweat away as the wagon jolted onwards, the dusty landscape of faded earth and the dried corpses of trees bouncing past.

Focusing for a moment Façade grasped desperately at clarity and knew, truly knew, that his two options were non-negotiable. He must convince S’hliyan to keep him or he must flee. For if he did not keep his freedom he would surely find death in its place.

A heavy sigh fell from his lips and he leant back into the darker reaches of the cart. He felt uncomfortably cold so much so that he could not understand the slick gleam of sweat upon his skin. His fingers plucked and tore at the burnt orange fringing of a discarded throw. Outside voices were swirling in the thick honey air. Whose they were seemed inconsequential. Everything was slow and thick. The light danced.

Oh god take me, he thought suddenly. I want to be lifted...

A ragged shudder passed through him, followed by a flash of heat so intense he had to fight the urge to vomit. Blinking rapidly he concentrated on breathing; deep cleansing breaths of humid Eastron air. After a few minutes the moment passed and he began to regain control. Faintly he wondered if he would ever again see or hear the only family he had ever known.

In the shadow of the wagon the Fool lay still, blond hair stuck to sallow cheeks, dark bruising under his eyes only highlighting the feverish glint in the pupils. He looked as a man on the verge of madness or death. Yet he was determined to beat them both. Or what was the point of liberty?
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Postby Frelga » Tue May 09, 2006 10:15 pm

Givi helped Scribe collect and stow things, limping around the small campsite from the empty tent to the cold ashes. Always the slave's voice was in his ears, a whining, submissive cadence learned under whip. The singer shuddered. It could have been him, but for luck and Sim's strong arms. But no, it couldn't have. He didn't have it in him to fawn at a master's boot. Not because he was so brave, but simply because he didn't know how. His body would be crushed and his mind would flee into madness before his back bent into such subservient bow.

He stowed most of the food Zar Calech sent with him in the smaller wagon, but kept a small store of dried meat and a waterskin by his saddle, along with a light blanket and his bow. With that, he was ready for anything and free to ride fast.

Jiyadan exchanged a few words with him and then Givi was off. His horse, a long-legged mare, shot forward after a day of rest in Zar Calech's stables. Givi let her run until he was well ahead of the wagons, but reined her in to the pace of the harnessed horses while he was still within their sight. Dry wind cleansed his chest of the foul city stench. Stars blossomed overhead as the campfires sunk into the night behind him. The road was clear ahead of him, and what was the use of wondering where it would lead.

He kept to the road as it wound between the low hills. Concealment was not important. For now, his job was to be seen so that his blue robe could announce to any would-be robbers that the small caravan was under the protection of the Ash-Gareh. It was, then, not a great surprise when three blue-garbed riders filed out on the road ahead of him.

As usual, it was Mazwar who berated him. This time, though, the two younger men staid silent and Givi saw no hint of a smile in two pairs of stern eyes that watched him from under the headscarves.

Givi glanced over his shoulder at the two carts that rapidly approached the four nomads. "Let's get off the road," he asked quietly.

Mazwar glared at him. "It's him again, the slaver. What's going on, Givi?" he demanded, not moving. Naravas reached for an arrow.

"I'll tell you. Just get off the road," Givi pleaded as carts clattered on. He hoped to all Eastern gods that Scribe wasn't stringing her own bow. "Move!" He kneed his mare so that she danced sideways.

The four cleared the road and a few moments later Jiyadan's cart drew even with them. Givi waved his hand at him, pointing along the road, telling him to go on. To his dismay, the front cart slowed down instead and came to a stop, and Scribe followed suit. Givi carefully nudged his mare between Mazwar and the carts.

"Start talking," the older man ordered him. "What are you doing with that slaver?"

"He's…" Givi began softly and stopped short, remembering the fabled Elven hearing, and the Westron slave in the near cart. "He is... He took the slaves to my friend. They have an agreement."

"A friend of your friend, is he?" Mazwar grumbled. "Couldn't he send a few girls with us?"

"If there any that would come, my friend will see to it," Givi promised. The Ash-Gareh called themselves the Free, and that was true of women as much as men, even slave women taken from caravans. But now came the hard part. "I am going with them, Mazwar. He… S’hliyan needs a guard, and my friend hired me for him."

"That would be up to Ketar. When does he want to leave?"

"Now. We need to be in Shyst by morning."

"Morning? Givi, what drink did you have that pickled your brain? You can't expect the four of us to take off without notice and ride through the night!"

Givi opened his mouth. It stayed open as the hillmen took in Mazwar's word but no sound came out. He looked up, where the stars wobbled, sharp and spikey, in the tears that suddenly filled his eyes. Then he had to look down, into the silky mane. "Four?" he managed at last.

"Four?" Adi was indignant. "Four? You don't mean to say that you would go alone? With them?"

For once the singer could not find a word to say. He looked at each of the blue-robed riders in turn and then at Jiyadan and Scribe. The horses shifted, and something clanked in the harness of the cart horses. "I have to go alone," Givi said. "He takes a dangerous road."

Adi hissed, a long breath drawn in through the teeth. "Danger? Is that all? Givi, I thought you were my friend."

"I am, until blood stands still in my heart. But I must go alone. Here, my fee for Ketar." Givi pulled out a small leather pouch and handed it to Mazwar. It jingled - the singer's hand was not quite steady. He saw for the first time, through all the nagging and mocking banter he received from the three nomads, the solid, unshakeable friendship they had given their lonely Foundling. He saw it now, when he was about to ride away from them. "I will have such a tale to tell you when I come back," he said.

"Don't bother." Adi rode past Givi without a glance. Mazwar shrugged. "I'll pass the word," he promised. So Jiyadan's little caravan would now be known to be under the protection of the Ash Gareh. Naravas lingered, the quiet young man. "Take care, Givi," he said, grasping the singer's wrist. "I want to hear that tale of yours."

Givi nodded and watched his friends melt into the night. "Well, that's settled," he told Jiyadan, hiding a sigh. "I will go on ahead."
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