Redemption: The Reckoning

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

Redemption: The Reckoning

Postby SilverScribe » Sat Jul 30, 2005 2:13 pm

The OOC thread for this Role Play can be found here. If you are new to this tale, please read the opening post of that thread first.

((OOC: My apologies in advance for the very long opening, but this role play will be a continuation of an already long prior story . . . :oops: . So the commencement of this thread consists of the last few posts of a previous thread, then the actual opening post for this thread.

The previous threads:
Redemption: The Curse Breaker's Journey
and
Redemption: Lord Cemandorin's Court

and a portion of the wedding of Orion and Elena . . .


What has gone on just before:

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

((OOC: my apologies to Jann Arden for hijacking and mauling her most wonderful song "Will You Remember Me" . . . and also for the shameless BAP . . .))


She had known Cornelius would be late. No matter, time was something she had never lacked.

She leaned her head back against the rock and let her gaze drift aimlessly over the thick, brilliant scattering of stars above her. After twelve long centuries, how had her life come to this? What had ever possessed her to pause in her wandering, to seek out the Bards Guild, to think she could ever fit in, ever safely walk the haunts of men? Why had she not simply remained apart, either on the move or undisturbed in the wastes of Rhudaur while the time leading up to the appointed meeting with Delkarnoth had passed? How had she let things get so far out of her control? Why had she not forseen this? Luinil had warned her, drilled it into her time and time again 'Care for any mortal at your peril, Scribe.' She ground her teeth in frustration. . . . stupid . . .

Her thoughts scattered, whirled away from her like fallen leaves on a winter wind, and after a time she closed her eyes and drew a deep, steadying breath.

It mattered little enough now, the unavoidable choice had been made. What could be her last road now stretched before her, the appointed time for her final confrontation with the dark elf mage drawing ever nearer. It was entirely likely that she would not return, that release from both her accursed life and this last, final dishonour would come with death. She would then be merely a name, one that would, if the gods were merciful, quickly fade from human memory. The words to a song she had heard long, long ago rose in her mind . . .

. . . will you remember me when I'm gone
will you remember me at all
I tried to be kind, I tried to be good
will you remember me . . .

the gods only know why we try and fail
is this heaven on earth or
the fires of hell?
I tried to be honest, but I had to lie
will you remember me, after I die . . .

I don't need to tell anyone I'm afraid
I'll be paying for all
the mistakes I've made.
I tried to be thoughtful,
it's hard not to be blind
will you remember me . . . after I'm gone . . .



The distant sound of a twig snapping brought her head up and her eyes fixed on the spot where the game trail opened into the clearing. Several minutes passed, then Cornelius came into the firelight, leading her horse behind him.

She rose and silently took the reins from him, then led the beast under the overhang, where she quickly unsaddled him and rubbed him down. When she was done, the tall warhorse snuffled loudly, then moved off to graze. Scribbles returned to the fireside and stood opposite where the fat monk had collapsed in a groaning heap.

"You're late."

Cornelius was too saddlesore to argue, or even to react. "Aye, and I must beg your most generous forgiveness, oh pinnacle of precious pardons. But the scent of food and the warm hominess of the fire only served to make this humble messenger hungry and thirsty after the heartstopping and backbreaking, not to mention backside punishing flight to yon 'Pot, and after a modest throat easing and lifesaving flagon, there was the matter of finding said Fool, and then came the dire necessity of food and one cannot be expected to choke down victuals in a rush without something to ease the passage into the stomach so aye, this miserable sot confesses to another modest flagon or two and well, before this wretched slave to poor weakened flesh knew it, 'twas nearly evening and both fatigue and sleep stole upon me like a thief in . . ."

"Save it Cornelius, I get the idea," she replied drily.

"It was only a short nap," he finished defensively. "And I am most gratified to know that you grasp all the most complex intricacies my sweetest, downiest of evening doves. Ai, my nether regions will never be the same," he moaned, "but I have performed my duties admirably in spite of it all. The Master of Fools has your letter, I delivered it into his keeping personally with mine own, albeit fumbling and unworthy hand. And I can tell you before you feel the necessity to interrogate my poor abused self, yes, he read it."

"Thank you," Scribbles answered simply. She looked away, turned back, looked way again and then finally fixed her eyes firmly on the fire. "How does he fare?" she asked quietly.

Cornelius was leaning over on one hip while gently rubbing the other one. At her quiet question his eyes narrowed. "Ah, this most humble lamb then oliphaunt then dog was right after all. You sent me on your horse simply so I would have to return with it and in doing so, provide you with the opportunity to grill this poor servant like a tender cut of beef, and thereby discover the welfare of the gentleman in question, eh, eh?"

She pressed her lips together in silent displeasure but could not find it in her heart to chastise the fat monk. After all, he had discharged his errand faithfully, and had not pressed her for the reason she had asked him to play the role of courier. She drew a slow breath and fixed the monk with a level, calm stare.

"Just tell me how he fares," she repeated.

"Well enough I suppose," Cornelius returned, "for a man who has just had his heart cut out and nailed to a conveniently adjacent wall."

"He told you this?!" she asked sharply.

"No," the fat monk snapped back, then sighed audibly. "He didn't have to." He shifted to a more comfortable position by the fire. "Forgive me oh star of the morning, but when a man nearly kills himself with drink, even this poor example of a brainless mortal can see that aught is amiss. And by the same thread of logic, a man rarely tries to kill himself with drink unless it is an affair of the heart. However, said Fool did not see fit to enlighten me with the reason for the illness which he barely managed to survive, though like most drunkards, I'm quite certain that for a few hours today at least, he heartily wished he had not," the monk finished with a faint, ironic smile.

Scribbles closed her eyes briefly, remembering the last look on Façade's face. When she opened her eyes, Cornelius was regarding her intently.

"I am sorry to hear that he fares so poorly," she answered, her outward expression remaining fixed, her voice flat. 'Ah Finian, please do not throw away the life that I have bought so dearly,' she thought to herself. It would be as heavy a burden on her conscience than if she had let her father's curse have him.

Cornelius frowned but said nothing. He knew something wasn't right, something had happened but he was fairly certain that the Scribe wasn't about to tell him a thing, any more than the Fool had.

"Thank you for delivering the note," Scribbles added softly, her eyes fixed once more on the flames. " 'Twill likely be the last."

"Indeed," Cornelius replied. "Though it pains me to say it oh most Silvery of Scribes, the gentleman appears to be of similar opinion. There is however, a last verbal reply, a recitation if you will . . . " he trailed off.

The icy knot in her belly tightened a little more, though she gave no outward sign. "Well?" she asked wearily. "Are you planning to recite it or will you act it out in sign language?"

Cornelius shrugged. "His exact words were . . . 'You may tell her thus: Lies are not easily forgiven. They plant forever the seed of doubt that not even time can weed.'"

She drew in a sharp, quick breath then bit her lip. 'not easily forgiven . . . forever the seed of doubt . . . not even time . . . ah, there it is then, the end of all hope,' she thought bitterly.

She had made the worst mistake possible, allowing herself to become trapped by another's wants and needs. . . . blind . . . And now she was not only cursed, but damned, her name squandered and everything she had been, destroyed. Rather than have another death on her conscience, she had chosen instead to pay for a mortal life with her honour, the one thing she had held most dear. Now, she had nothing.

Façade had missed the meaning behind her words, he would never know, never care, never understand what she had paid, nor why. She heard Lord Elrond's voice again, 'Men are weak." Perhaps. Perhaps they were merely too mortal. So many Edain never seemed to grasp the long view, perhaps their brief lives rendered them incapable of seeing beyond their own immediate desires. She had hoped Façade would prove different, somehow, but in the end, he had been measured and like all the mortal men before him, had been found wanting. She had risked it all, her name, her honour, her very soul. . . and lost. . . . wasted . . . She fought the sudden rush of bitterness and instead steeled her resolve . . . so be it. To the victor the spoils, and to the one who gambles and loses, defeat and dishonour. She had known the risk.

If there had been no place for her among mortals before this, there would certainly be none now, for she would simply be seen as faithless, self-serving and cruel, to be reviled as the worst sort of creature possible . . . a liar, an oath breaker, a betrayer of trust.

. . . never again . . .

"Forgive my most ardent and possibly unseemly curiosity, but what did you send him?" Cornelius asked softly.

She regarded him calmly over the fire. "Merely a bit of verse," she replied.

"And this humble servant gets the distinct impression that you are not about to tell me exactly what that bit of verse was, yes?"

She shrugged. "I don't see that it matters now. it was,
A lover's lie
fades not with time,
but where lies truth,
enemy mine . . . "
.

Rising smoothly to her feet, she wrapped her cloak around herself. "I left you some supper. I need to walk," she said quietly, then left the shelter of the rock overhang and disappeared into the darkness.

Puzzled, Cornelius stared into the flames and sighed, suddenly wishing he was any place other than where he was.

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Thu Apr 15, 2010 12:13 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Jul 30, 2005 2:14 pm

She walked for a little over an hour, the events of her life playing out in her mind over and over again. She thought back to the aborted dream of Delkarnoth the evening before. Could she buy back her future with his death? Or should she simply let the dark mage take her life and be done with it. She shook herself mentally, despair was a dangerous trap. She purposely focused her thoughts, not on her possible death, but on Façade's life. If she were to die, he would never know that she had not betrayed him out of mere cruelty, but for another reason entirely. If she did not return from the approaching confrontation, he would go through the years believing that she had meant to purposely trample his pride and affection in the dirt. There had to be a way to let him know the truth, a way that would not endanger his life now, but would perhaps bring him even a small possibility of understanding and maybe even comfort after her death. In spite of all that she had already paid, she felt she yet owed him that much.

An idea glimmered.

She had always been an intensely private creature, and it made her uncomfortable that her last gesture meant she would have to disclose some of her personal affairs to Cornelius. However, the monk had surprised her in the past and she knew that though his honour was questionable in some people's eyes, in their few dealings he had always been honest with her. And she knew what many did not, that the fat monk's outward demeanor hid a golden heart, one that he protected as fiercely as she did her past. She smiled sadly. It seemed that here, at the end, they were a suitable pair for the last trust she would lay upon him.

She returned to the camp to find the monk stretched comfortably before the waning fire, his head pillowed on his rolled up cloak, his rounded stomach liberally sprinkled with crumbs and his eyes half closed as he drowsed in a contented, digestive stupor. She left him in peace and went to her pack, withdrawing her journal, a quill and a small stone inkpot. She stirred and fed the fire back to a bright blaze and then settled herself, turned to a clean page and began to write.

***

Cornelius watched the Scribe from under slitted lids with a detached interest. That she was scribbling in that journal of hers again failed to provoke any of his usual curiosity, he was just too saddlesore and too tired to turn the thought over more than once. But when she finished writing and carefully tore the pages out, his eyes opened a little more. When she folded the parchment pages and sealed them, he came a little more awake yet. That looked suspiciously like . . . he groaned in mock pain. No. Not another one.

Scribbles looked across the fire at him as she set the journal and other things aside. "I know you're awake old monk, come, there are matters on which we need to speak," she murmured as the monk rolled to his side and pushed himself up to a cross legged sitting position. "Can it not wait until morning?" he groused, scrubbing one fat hand across his face. "After all, it can't be that far off . . . "

"Dawn is yet a goodly way off old dog," she answered with a chuckle. "But do not fear, I will not keep you awake long."

He looked pointedly at the folded and sealed page lying atop her journal. "Please, oh most understanding and generous of acquaintances, do not tell me the true nature of that object, which by it's most sinister similiarity to another, only just recently delivered missive, loudly tolls a warning bell of most ominous and doleful tones in the heart of this trembling and fearful servant. Please to be telling me that you are not sending this abused and battered self blindly into the heat of battle once again?" The monk rolled his eyes upward to heaven and clasped his pudgy fingers together as if in prayer. "Oh please, you most generous and I most fervently hope, attentive gods, show mercy to this faint-hearted soul and turn yon Scribe from her course, thereby rescuing this poor and already well-abused monk from certain trouble," he mumbled.

She shook her head. "Ah, poor hard done by Cornelius. Calm yourself, I am not about to ask you to take this anywhere, at least not tonight."

She picked up the folded and sealed pages and tapped them against her other hand thoughtfully. "But come, attend me now for I promise that this last task is simple and will not involve any further risk to your poor, abused person. I ask only for your trust."

He turned his eyes to her, though his hands remained clasped before him. "Truly?" he asked.

"Truly," she answered quietly.

Cornelius shrugged and let his hands fall into his lap. "Then I will endeavor to be equal to the task, oh most magnificent yet mysterious monument of munificence," he smiled.

She grinned in spite of herself, then sobered and looked down to what she held. "I need you to promise Cornelius, that what will pass between us now goes no further, with the exception of the one other person who may need to know," she said quietly. "Do I have your word?" She looked up, her eyes dark, unreadable.

"Aye," Cornelius replied softly. "All jest and joking aside Scribe, you have my solemn word."

She nodded. "Then listen closely, for if it becomes necessary for you to deliver this, I would not have you ignorant of its content. I will not see you an uninformed messenger again." She drew a deep breath to orgainize her thoughts and choose her words with care. Cornelius leaned forward slightly, his elbows braced on his knees, chin resting on his fists and his eyes fixed on her face.

She let the deep breath out slowly, then began.

She told him again of her father's curse, though he already knew most of it. Then she added the basic circumstances surrounding her fateful encounter with Delkarnoth, and the fact that the appointed time of their final reckoning was finally close at hand.

"The appointed time for this meeting finally approaches, and this is the road from which I might not return," she finished quietly.

"But why? " Cornelius asked. "Please to forgive this poor and ignorant peasant, but you have lived a long time and have obviously survived very dangerous roads before. Why is this road different from any other?"

"Because the one I go to meet may yet be my superior, my skills may not be enough to see his death without also causing mine," she answered softly. Cornelius shifted, but said nothing.

"I have made many mistakes in my long life, old monk. Hopefully, underestimating Delkarnoth will not be one of them." She paused, then plunged on. "And most recently, I made yet another mistake, which, without going into the more painful details, resulted in the unhappy circumstances in which you lately found our mutual acquaintance, Façade."

Cornelius' eyes widened as he lifted his chin from his fists. "You?!" he sputtered. "You were the . . . 'woman trouble' Herger spoke of?? By my soul Scribe, tell me this is not the case, but only the foggy and unformed stupidity of this woefully ignorant servant!"

She looked down in embarrassment. "Woman trouble? Well, I suppose Herger would see it that way," she said quietly. Looking back up, she raked one hand through her hair.

"You yourself know of Façade's persistence, since you are the one he persuaded to act as his courier, no? Well, in spite of all my efforts, in spite of how many times I tried to explain, in spite of all the times he claimed to understand, the man kept appearing, kept talking, kept asking, kept rhyming and singing and finally insisted on . . . " she ran down, feeling the colour rise in her face. She closed her eyes. "I had no choice, there was just no other way to buy his life, Cornelius," she said softly.

The monk tapped one fat finger against his lips thoughtfully. Judging from the Fool's determination to stay in some sort of communication with the Scribe, he could guess where the man's affections may have led. In that case, she would have tried to protect him from the curse that dogged her.

"He got close enough to be in danger, so, you did something that he would hate you for," Cornelius mused quietly.

She opened her eyes and nodded. "Aye, for my father's curse rarely troubles mere acquaintances, but for certain never looks to my enemies," she agreed.

The monk tapped his lips again. "Aaahhh, so let me guess, you pretended to return his affections and then, so to speak, threw the gauntlet in his face?"

"Not exactly pretended," she said quietly, then held up a hand as Cornelius' eyes went wide once again and he blurted, "You . . you . . . why, you care for him!!"

She rose from her place and walked around the fire to hold the folded, sealed page out to Cornelius. "Aye, against the wise advice of my master and my better judgement," she answered. "So you see old dog, foolishness is not the sole province of a Fool."

"Nor of a man," he agreed quietly as he reached up and took the letter from her hands. She squatted down next to him.

"It hardly matters now. I had to deliberately lie to him and judging from his verbal reply, what he thinks was the lie is really the truth, and what he thinks is the truth is really the lie. It seems that he did not see the clue in the verse I sent him." She shrugged. " When or if he ever does, perhaps he will piece together the truth on his own. Perhaps he will think less unkindly of me, perhaps even . . . forgive me. Hopefully it will no longer matter by then, it could very well be that my fate and that of my curse will already be determined."

Cornelius watched her face silently for a few moments. "I had no idea Scribe, please to be forgiving my earlier impertinence," he said quietly. "I will pray to the Valar to lend strength to your arm and courage to your heart." He paused. 'And sense to a Fool,' he added to himself.

She smiled sadly. "Thank you old dog," she answered, then nodded at the sealed parchment. "That contains an explanation of the what and the why, the true facts we have discussed and that at present, Façade does not know. While I live, you must keep it safely hidden away."

"Why?" the monk asked, puzzled.

"Because while I live with my fathers curse unbroken, Façade must be protected. But he has a right to know the real truth, not the lie that he currently believes the truth to be. He is safe enough in the meantime if he remains . . . hostile . . . towards me, or even if he suspects or works the truth out for himself. But if you should cross paths with him, you will have to be very careful Cornelius. Promise me that you will be so, on your vows as a holy man."

Cornelius looked down at the parchment and nodded solemnly.

"But if I should meet my death and not return from this errand, you are to deliver that to Façade without pause, sealed and intact, and answer any questions as you see fit," she added quietly.

The fat monk frowned. "Aye, you have my word, but Scribe . . . how will I know whether you have not yet returned because you are say, injured and travelling slowly, or waylaid on your return journey for some reason, or because you truly . . . have . . . "

"Passed into Shadow?" she prompted gently. Cornelius looked up, his fat face grim. "Aye," he whispered.

She dug into her vest and held something out to him on her flattened palm. Cornelius picked it up and rolled it around in his cupped hand. "Why, 'tis but a common river stone," he remarked, looking at the flattened oval of an unpolished stone which had been pierced and strung on a fine leather thong.

"Aye, that it is. But things are not always as they seem," she said with a faint smile. "Rub it between your fingers," she prompted.

Cornelius held the smooth grey pebble against his fingers with his thumb while gently rubbing it across the stone. A soft pearly glow lit up his hand as the flattened pebble seemed to come to life.

"As long as I draw breath, the stone will respond," she said quietly as she rose back to her feet. "But if death takes me, the stone will turn dull and black. That is how you will know," she finished softly.

He looked up, his lips pressed tightly together for a few moments, then he nodded wordlessly, not trusting himself to speak. Scribbles smiled down at him sadly.

"I have kept you from your rest long enough, Cornelius," she said gently. "Get some sleep." She turned and disappeared once more into the darkness.

Cornelius sighed and slipped the thong over his head. He eyed the folded parchment for a few moments, then carefully placed it into the flat pouch at his belt before stretching out and getting comfortable by the fire once more. But it took him a long time to fall asleep.

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Sat Jan 06, 2007 9:15 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Jul 30, 2005 2:15 pm

The night was still, the stars glittering like the finest diamonds scattered across a midnight cloak of richest black. She drew in a deep breath and topped the slight rise where the trees fell away and the horizon was visible over the darker shapes of the treetops. Eärendil's light shone clearly in the West and she stared at it for long minutes.

"Aiya Eärendil, elenion ancalima." *

Finally, she closed her eyes and gathered herself. Her left hand rose to her chest and closed around something under her tunic. A faint silver light glowed under her fingers and willing her thoughts to calm, she formed a picture in her mind, then gently, carefully, reached out.

To touch a mortal mind was forbidden, but she did not seek to touch, only to find, only to know. It was not contact, but more a sensing of something familiar, yet something oddly changed. Frowning, she withdrew, troubled at the faint and undefinable feeling, under the impression of slumber, a whisper of something bruised, overloaded. She opened her eyes and exhaled slowly. There was nothing more she could do for him, he was beyond her now. She could hold to nothing but what awaited her at the end of the road she now faced.

She drew Celebamarth and placing the swordtip in the ground in front of her, sank to one knee. Leaning forward, she placed her forehead against the cross pieces of the large, rune-etched broadsword.

"Nin hlar Lethelian, meldamil, varya sina Qualvanda." ** She spoke softly but clearly, chanting the phrase three times before she rose and re-sheathed her weapon. All was now in the hands of the Valar.


***

The fire had burned down to glowing coals and dawn was barely pearling the sky when Cornelius woke with a start. The Scribe stood on the other side of the firepit, her saddled and packed horse standing patiently behind her. Cornelius sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"Namarie, old smuggler. Fare thee well, may the Valar guard your road and may certain noblemen never discover your trail," she said with a sad smile, her eyes shadowed.

"You're leaving? Now?" Cornelius blurted, still stupid with sleep.

"Aye, 'tis long past time I was on the road," Scribbles answered.

"Ah, well, until our next meeting then," Cornelius replied, thinking of just rolling over and going back to sleep. "I should be in Rhudaur again before the year is out."

"But I will not," Scribbles replied gently.

"What, what? Do you mean to sail West?!" he spluttered, shaking the cobwebs of sleep from his head. "Oh please, most divine dove of the dawn, please do not tell me that like your mother's people, you are abandoning these shores, along with this humble and most faithful of servants? Ai me, ai, ai! What have I said . . ."

Scribbles held up one hand. "I do not sail West, you know that way is denied to me. Do you not recall what we spoke of last night Cornelius? Where I go now there may be no returning from, it is likely that we shall not meet again. Do not look to find me in Rhudaur, I would not have you wander the northern wastes in vain."

The fat monk observed her silently for a few minutes then suddenly came fully wide awake as he remembered the letter and the charge of trust from the night before. He struggled to his feet, walked around the fire and solemnly held out one meaty hand.

"Then we will leave our next meeting in the hands of the Valar," he said quietly. "Fare thee well Scribe, may Eru keep you and guide you."

"For whatever time remains to me," she added, then firmly clasped his wrist and inclined her head in acknowledgement of his blessing. Turning, she swung up into the saddle and gathered the reins. "I have only one last favour to ask of you old monk," she said.

He groaned softly. "Another one?" he grinned, then sobered. "You have only to speak your most fervent desire and I shall endeavor to comply, oh most venerable and ancient of grouches," he answered with a sad shadow of a smile.

"If ever you truly learned to pray, spare a few moments for this old scribbler, now and again," she finished softly.

He regarded her solemly for a few long moments as his eyes slowly filled with tears and his throat tightened. The reality that this could very well be the last time he would see her struck home. "I will," he whispered hoarsely. She nodded silently, then turned her horses' head and urged him off into the pre-dawn murk.

Cornelius stood and watched her disappear, his heart heavy. He sat back down and fed a few small pieces of wood into the coalbed, blowing on them until bright yellow flames flared up. "Rather, I will try," he mused sadly, "but I am afraid that the gods have a habit of ignoring my prayers."


* "Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars."
** "Hear me Lethelian, beloved mother, protect this Road of Death."


***

And that concludes the events up to the present time, at which point the rest of the tale will now commence . . .

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Sat Jan 06, 2007 9:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Jul 30, 2005 2:22 pm

When she left Cornelius, she rode at a steady pace for two days, going through Buckland and the Barrow Downs with some caution. She arrived at Bree late in the afternoon, stabled her horse, then pulled up her hood against yet another rain squall as she strode rapidly for the door way of the town's most famous Inn. Once inside, she pushed back the hood of her cloak and shook the worst of the heavy clinging droplets from the fine grey elven wool.

The Prancing Pony was just as she had remembered it from the countless times she had stopped there, whether on her own or in the company of Gandalf Greyhame. She sighed to herself as she went straight into the taproom and ordered ale, dark bread and cheese, then paid and found an inconspicuous table against the wall where she could watch both the room and the door beyond the bar. The clientele never seemed to change in these sorts of Inns, disreputable looking men mixed with farmers and the occasional dwarf or hobbit.

She ate in silence, planning and calculating. The appointed time for her meeting with the dark elf mage Delkarnoth was drawing near, and the signal she had been waiting for for nearly two years had finally come. She recalled Luinil's parting words at the feet of the Misty Mountains, just outside Lothlorien where she and Bardhwyn, the Archer of Dale had stopped to camp.

"When the true gate opens, it will be as a knife in your heart, and there will be no doubt in your mind, trust me."

He had been right, there was no doubt in her mind. The recent events at the conclusion of Orion and Elena's wedding had truly been as a knife in her heart, and there was only one option left for her now. She would endanger no more lives but in order to do that and still get the help she knew she needed, she would have to buy that help. So she was here to recruit, and mercenaries were what she was after.

When she had finished her meal, she returned to the bar for another ale. When the barman took her coin, she snagged his wrist and held him back. "'Ere wot's this?" he exclaimed loudly, just as she knew he would. She let him go as she answered him, making sure her voice was loud enough to carry beyond their immediate vicinity.

"Tell me goodman," she said, "do you know of any good fighting men who are looking to earn some honest coin?"

"Don't you mean, spend some?" the barkeep shot back with a grin. "Though I'm thinkin' ye're a bit too tall for most of 'em around these parts." Several of the closest men snickered. "Bit too tall an' not near pretty enough," someone else volunteered. "Still, long as all the important bits'r workin'," another chipped in. "Hell, if'n the price be cheap enough, even I'd consider 'avin' a go," the man next to her guffawed loudly.

Scribbles calmly turned to face the speaker, her dark, blue-violet eyes unreadable and her face impassive. "Would you now?" she asked softly. The man squared his shoulders and grinned at his mates before leering at her. "Sure, why not?" he answered. "I've bedded wors'n you." Scribbles let a faint smile cross her lips. "I don't think you'd be up to it," she offered, then turned back to the barkeep.

"Oh, you jez never know . . ." the man began as he leaned forward to reach for her, then stopped as the glittering point of a stiletto flicked into view right between his eyes. His eyes crossed as he focused on the blade, then uncrossed as he looked beyond it into Scribbles' once more expressionless face.

"I want fighters, not drunken braggarts or bar brawlers," she grated, then looked beyond him to the other faces at the bar. "Not one of you within my present range of view fit the bill, so don't waste my time," she finished coldly. She flicked her left hand and the stiletto disappeared as she turned back to the barkeep.

"If anyone comes in that does fit the bill, pass the word. My next stop is the Forsaken Inn," she finished, then took her ale and shouldered her way from the bar. One burly fellow barred her way, his dark hair hung in greasy strands and his beard showed signs of old food and stale beer foam. "You wanna get 'round me missy, you gonna have te dance," he snorted.

Scribbles' right hand shot out and took the shorter man by the throat, then effortlessly lifted him up onto his tiptoes. His eyes bugged out and he made gargling sounds as he scrabbled helplessly at the iron grip on his windpipe. "I do not dance," she growled, then let the man down and shoved him aside to sag against a table gasping for breath.

He was about to go after her retreating back when another hand shot out from behind him and took him by the upper arm. A deep voice spoke close by his ear. "I wouldn't bother friend, unless I miss my guess, that one is peredhel and more than a match for any ten men in the place. Buy yourself a beer instead." A coin dropped over his shoulder and he had to reach out quick to snag it before it hit the floor. When he turned to find the speaker, there was no one there. He looked to the faces of some of the other men who were standing nearby, but they all shrugged and turned away to resume their own business or conversations.

Scribbles drained the ale flagon on the way to the door and just before she left for the stables, she deposited it on an empty table. Her next stop, the Forsaken Inn, was in a small, scruffy village that lay in a shallow hollow across the Great East Road from the Midgewater Marshes. Hence it was a damp and unhealthy looking sort of place, but just the sort of place she hoped to find men who would fight for gold and ask few questions.

She pulled up her hood and made her way back to the stables, and her horse.

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Fri Aug 05, 2005 6:54 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sun Jul 31, 2005 12:20 pm

Khiran woke from the dream with a cold sweat, shivering in the sea's night air. He ran one hand over his face to wipe away the moisture and looked around, dropping his head back to the cot when all seemed normal again. That was the third time this month he had experienced the same dream. Maybe it was time to see the Hikha, the holy man.

"In the morning," he mumbled, closing his eyes to drift back to sleep. The visions still skirted the edges of his mind: the sword of pearl, the great serpent banner standing at a stone bridge, a sky of blue. In Harad, one did not question the validity dreams. They were seen as signs from the gods or fates or whatever one wished to believe in. But everyone believed in dreams.

All morning the thoughts troubled him as he scrubbed the decks, quieter than usual. Leaving before morning mess, he grabbed his duffle and headed into the town through the bustle and push of the early markets, fishmongers and sailors returning to their ships from nights spent elsewhere.

He shouldered his way through the crowds, barely giving any a second glance, though... perhaps that little woman he would pay a visit to on the way back. A sly grin spread on his face as he turned his eyes forward again and continued on to the darker parts of town, where less people gathered and even less light permeated the air.

Khiran stepped cautiously down the alleys, over the body of a man either dead or still drunk from the night before, and tried his best to avoid the refuse on the stones. Sea-life had its own filth but it was cleaner than the cities, he thought with disdain, turning up his nose at the smells and pushing through until he found the door he was looking for.

It was unadorned but for a single symbol in the very center, the symbol of the Hikha. He raised his knuckles to rap on the door but even as he reached forward the door gave way before him. Khiran peered uncertainly into the darkness that engulfed the inside.

"Ahhh, so you have come at last," a voice spoke, the speaker not yet visible but by his voice he must have been as old and wrinkled as a raisin. "Don't stand there in the street, young man, come in, come in."

Khiran took a wary step inside, his fist tight around the dagger he held across his body. "I'm looking for..."

"Of course you are," the voice snapped, irritated. "What else would you come here,... stupid kid.." the voice began to retreat, mumbling other unpleasantries. Khrian bristled.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness he could now make out the vague form of a figure moving back and forth around the room. A flame burst to life and he quickly shaded his eyes, slowly daring to open them again as now his eyes now adjusted to the light that glowed from a lamp above a table.

He looked around but the man was gone. Spinning, he almost crashed into him as he came out of a small doorway to the right. "Ai, watch yourself. I'm too old to be sent crashing to the floor by a clumsy oaf as yourself. You'll break something in me, you will!"

Khiran watched the man, almost a dwarf in size, place the tray he carried on the table, then returned to shuffling around the room, taking this or that off a shelf and placing it on the table also. "So, you know why I am here?" Khrian asked carefully.

"Of course I do." He came over wagging a finger threateningly at Khiran, which he found quite unsettling despite the small size of the man. "I may have been born at night, young man, but it wasn't last night. Of course I know why you've come. The same reason everyone comes, isn't it?"

He threw up his hands and moved away again, fussing with the objects on the table and pouring tea from the kettle on the tray into a cup. "You've had yourself a dream, perhaps you even want a potion to charm the young lady by the docks or some other such thing right?"

Khiran's eyes widened, his mouth opening then snapping shut just as quickly. "Oh don't look so startled," the old man said. "It's not as if your story is any different from a hundred other sailors' that come through here. All have dreams and visions of young pretty things on the docks. Now, sit. And for harak-sake put that blade away before you hurt yourself or me.

Too shocked to refuse, Khiran sat and sheathed the dagger, laying his duffle on the floor beside him and staring still in amazement at the man. The man, whose name happened to be Aslan, not that it mattered, put the cup of tea down before the sailor and then sat opposite. "So, now, perhaps you tell me what this dream or vision or girl looks like."

"Well, I... " Khiran began.

"And keep your conclusions to yourself," Aslan interrupted. "You just tell me exactly what you saw, it's my job to tell you what it means."

Even more unsettled now, Khiran ran a palm over his head and started again. "I have had the dream three times this month, and..."

"Drink your tea."

Khiran blinked. "What?"

"Drink your tea before it goes cold."

He looked down at the cup. Tea wasn't exactly what he wanted. He looked back at the man but the expression he received in return said he had better not mess around and do exactly what he was told. He drank the tea.

"Good. You listen, I like that," Aslan cackled. "Well go on then, stop dawdling and tell me your dream."

Khiran cleared his throat and began for a third time. "Each time I have the dream I see myself standing at a bridge..."

"You see yourself standing there or you are standing there?"

"What is the difference?"

"Well either you are in your body or not! So do you see yourself or are you merely there?"

Khiran had to think for a moment, trying to recall the fleeting images before at last saying, "No, I see myself."

"Ok, go on," Aslan said with a wave of his hand.

Khiran was becoming quite unsettled with the many interruptions now and rubbed his hands together. "So, I see myself at this bridge, it is made of stone and looks quite old. And then I see a sword made of pearl..."

"What is it doing?"

"... What is what doing?"

"The sword," Aslan snapped. "For harak-sake, the sword, what is the sword doing?"

"It is..." Khiran stopped for he hadn't thought to remember that was of great importance. He thought hard for several moments before at last saying, "It is floating, against the sky but not up in the sky. A sky of blue, yes it is floating against a sky of blue."

"And you see this sword, or you see yourself seeing this sword?"

"I.. uh.. no I see it."

"Ok, that's good. What else?"

"I then see the standard of Harad, the black snake on crimson flying in a sou-easterly wind."

Aslan cackled and clapped his hands together. "Excellent, excellent!"

"What is," Khiran asked, utterly baffled by this small, wrinkled man.

Aslan said nothing but began to shuffle the things on the table again, not even looking up.

"Well? What is it? What does it mean?" Khrian prompted, eager to know the secret of his dreams.

"Hm?" Aslan looked up as if he had not heard a single word the whole time. "Oh, you're still here? Go back to your ship, young man. And may I suggest you not drink so much before bed?"

Khiran stared at him in shock. "I.. but.."

"Ai! Stop wasting my time. I'm an old man and I don't have much of it left, right? Come on now, up with you, out you go." He waved both hands at Khiran as if he was a cow in the way and was trying to shoo him out of it. Khiran, for his part, was too dumb-struck by the whole affair to offer much protest and grabbed his duffle as he was ushered out the door.

"And next time you have a bit of indigestion, Khiran, may I suggest seeing a doctor not a holy man hm?" And with that, Aslan slammed the door and bolted it.

Khiran was more than a little irate. Weren't these men supposed to charge him a coin and tell him what the future would hold for him before sending him on his way? Besides, he hadn't been drinking - last night anyway - and his stomach was... his thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. "I never told him my name," he murmured.

Turning, he was about to pound on the door and demand an explanation but just as it had earlier the door fell away even as his knuckles went to strike it and the wrinkled old man beamed. "Ahh!!! Good! So you have more than a passing interest hm? Maybe you really do want to know. Good, come back inside, quick!"

The corsair was getting a bit tired of these games now and stepped inside, standing over Aslan and staring down at him from what was comparatively a considerable height. "Now look," he said, sounding firm and threatening and motioning with his hand that he meant business.

Aslan slapped away his hand. "Knock that off, now how dare you threaten me! Ornery kids these days, no respect, no discipline... Come over here!" he snapped, walking back to the table. "Now, if you are truly going to follow my words, then I will tell you what your dream has meant. But I warn you, Khiran, this journey is more than you will have bargained for."

"Journey?" Khiran asked, his eyebrows rising in surprise. "Where am I going?"
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Postby The_Fool » Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:50 pm

It was miserably cold. Huddled up against the open hearth Htiet tugged his high black collar tighter around his neck with dark coffee-coloured hands. He’d managed to gain a thick wrap of black fur, which he wore underneath the worn black shirt of his old uniform, the fluffy edges sticking out the top of the collar to tickle his skin. Gold embroidery that had adorned the cuffs and collar of the jacket was frayed, and Htiet no longer had the pants to match. Those had been damaged beyond repair and he now wore pants of thick grey wool tucked into the dirty black leather of his boots.

When he had been in Rhûn, a prized soldier and personal bodyguard to one of the East’s highest ruling house’s only son, those boots had always been beautifully polished. They had shone liked oiled obsidian. Now...now, Htiet reflected bitterly, they were always filthy, like his current miserable life.

His scimitar, a deadly and extremely expensive blade, lay on the table before him in its sheath. His hand was clasped loosely near the hilt, ready and tensed. The Forsaken Inn was not a place that made him feel comfortable and well at ease. Of course he had been told it was exactly the kind of place for him. Easterling scum.

He gritted his teeth. In Rhûn he had been given all manner of courtesies. He had represented Ba’radan S’ravsahiv Bhenan and the might of his father Ravsahiv Kimir, the head of the Hazir household. But he had been disgraced, exiled, because he had failed to keep Bhenan safe. The only son. Dead now. Dead and gone to the Underworld.

He shivered, eyes closing against the pain of remembrance. His loyalty had been unwavering. Yet he had betrayed them, letting the man who had threatened Bhenan’s life live in a bid for peace and mercy. It had not lasted and at his son’s death Kimir had sent him to the West in a terrible fury. To the West and to the cold...By the gods it was so cold in this tsayka of a country.

“You alright there sweetheart?” The serving girl leant in and smiled, exposing a missing eyetooth. “You move any closer to that fire you’ll be in it.” She laughed raucously at her own joke.

The corners of Htiet’s mouth twitched as if he were amused only to appease her.

“You understand me?” she asked, apparently expecting more of a reaction for her glittering display of wit. “Hmmm? You’re an Easterling. Do....you...speak...Westron?!” She had raised her voice in volume with the final sentence, as if by doing so she could drum understanding into his skull.

“I think you’re very stupid,” Htiet replied, smiling sweetly.

“Oh sweetheart I’m sorry. I don’t speak Eastron,” she simpered, patting his cheek. Htiet was reminded quite abruptly of Bhenan, his charge’s peculiar habit of stroking his face with thin, spidery hands when he was particularly pleased with him. “Would you like some food?” she broke him out of his reverie, miming eating and rubbing her stomach enthusiastically.

“I think your food tastes like ritsay,” Htiet was still smiling, tapping one finger against the sheath of his scimitar. “Westron cooking is like chalk boiled in water.”

“Oh bless your heart and that quaint little language of yours!” the woman giggled and flounced off, calling over her shoulder: “I’ll bring you something over and you tell me how you like Western cooking.”

Htiet rolled his eyes and scooted closer to the fire, rubbing the small crescent scar over his cheekbone absently with his thumb.
Last edited by The_Fool on Sat Aug 06, 2005 8:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Frelga » Fri Aug 05, 2005 1:54 pm

In the twilight, a dark drop slid off a trampled grass blade to mingle with the morning dew. Grass trembled and straightened again, hiding the tracks of sharp hooves. For a brief moment, a deer stood silhouetted against the graying horizon, an arrow quivering in its flank. Then, it made a great leap, and another, and disappeared into the low brush.

Before long, the grass bent again under the noiseless step of the archer.

***

A string of grey clouds ran along the ridge like a wolf pack. Weatherhills, the place was called, and that day the hills were brewing rain. Light shone even and bright through the ragged strip under the clouds. In a sheltered hollow stood a tiny hut covered with birch bark. Outside, a campfire burned and a deer skin was stretched on a rough frame near the fire.

Radesh threw a fox skin onto the small pile of rabbit and squirrel pelts. Above him on the hllside, aspen leaves lit up like a gold and red warning beacon. Winter was coming.

Firewood. He'd need more firewood if he were to winter here. Wouldn't do to run out on a freezing night.

"Why not?" a treacherous thought whispered in his ear. Of all the deaths he had faced, cold surely had the lightest hand. Radesh shook his head firmly. He’d store firewood. And he’d have a beaver hat made for himself.

At last he tied the cord over the neat bundle of skins. He would take it to the market in the village. Furs fetched good coin these days as more people came into the chilly Northern wilderness. Most came to escape the war-torn lands in the South. Some were sent here in chains.

Radesh rubbed the pale scars on his wrist. There was no use in tracing scars on his left hand. It missed two fingers and the forearm was raked as if with great claws.

In Gondor, he stood out among the pale-eyed locals, with his bronze skin and black eyes. They saw a dangerous man, a scar seared into his jaw - a tramp in frayed clothes carrying an empty pack.

The men who had accused him of murder were slavers and child-snatchers. But they had plenty of coin to back up their words, enough to get even with him for standing in their way. Not quite enough to get him hanged, though. Instead, he was sent here, to the wastelands, and left to survive as he would. He did well, Radesh thought. He was good at surviving.

"And for what?" the same treacherous voice asked him.

"To go home," Radesh replied aloud.

Home… It was far to the South and high in the mountains that Gondor claimed as its own. A long, hard road for a lone man, and he had to reach the mountains before the passes closed with snow. Much too late to start now. Better to stay here, and save some coin from the fur trade, and start back with the first sign of spring.

"To go home..."
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Postby SilverScribe » Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:09 pm

Her horse plodded the last few miles, unhappy with the fine, steady rain that had set in about an hour out from Bree and had fallen most of the night and well into the next day. Scribbles had opted to mostly stay off the Great East Road, there were still men in Bree-land who would not think twice about waylaying a solitary traveller, and she had no wish to fight and even less to have to kill to protect herself. But staying in the thin woods within sight of the road had made their progress painfully slow and miserably damp. Scribbles pulled her cloak tighter, though she didn't feel the cold, she was not entirely pleased with being any wetter than she had to be.

Finally, just after midday, the rain stopped. The jumbled shapes of run-down houses and a few shops began to resolve themselves out of the mist that moved between the tree trunks ahead of them. Scribbles urged her warhorse back onto the road and cantered the last quarter mile or so into the village. She passed an open air marketplace where dripping awnings were only partially successful in keeping a variety of wares dry. Other merchants hawked their wares from the beds of boxed in wagons whose sides dropped open. Still others had simply waited for the rain to pass and were now alternating between squinting at the slowly clearing sky and laying out their goods on wide, freshly wiped tables.

She took note of the market and crossed the muddy road to where a weatherbeaten sign proclaimed that a somewhat larger but no less ramshackle sort of building was the Forsaken Inn itself. She dismounted and led her horse around the side of the building where several other horses stood under a deep overhang. If she needed to stable him, she would see to it later.

"Stay alert old son," she admonished him softly in Sindarin, then rubbed his nose. "And someday, you will tell me your true name, yes?" The stallion snorted softly, then pushed at her gently. She knew that he would not allow anyone to touch him nor anything he carried, so she left him without worry and made her way into the Inn.

She knew this Inn well and didn't need to stop in the doorway to take its measure. Without pausing, she pushed the hood of her cloak back and approached the bar. She had not bothered with breakfast, so she ordered the only decent thing as far as food went in the place, a venison stew that the inkeepers wife made that boasted dark beer as an ingredient. It was a rich, savoury dish, served with small barley cakes. She ordered a large nut brown ale to go with it and then went to a quiet table just beyond the wide communal fireplace and draped her cloak over the chair.

She returned to the fireplace and putting a booted foot up on the stone hearth, braced one elbow on her knee and rubbed her hands in front of the flames to both dry and warm them. A man sitting right up against the fire warmed stone shifted to get closer to the heat and her gut turned over as she caught a glimpse of his face in profile.

'Easterling,' she thought, instantly followed by a pang of guilt and old regret as she thought of Matrim, lost so long ago on a different road, a road that had started out with the same purpose, but in very different circumstances. She kept her eyes averted and her face coldly impassive, whatever this one was doing here so far from the East was none of her business.

She straightened and turned her back to the fire, feeling the damp seep slowly out of her clothes. Even though the grey elven cloak had kept off the rain, the saturated air had seemed to creep through it and into her very bones. But too soon the barmaid swished by, winking at the Easterling by the fire as she went, holding aloft a tray laden with the Scribe's meal. Scribbles reluctantly left off trying to get dry and returned to her table. When the barmaid had set everything down, she stood and held out her hand. Scribbles fished out a small coin and held it above the barmaid's open palm. When the girl looked up, puzzled, Scribbles spoke up.

"Pass the word, I am looking for fighting men. I will pay good coin, but I want seasoned warriors, not brawlers or drunks."

"You mean mercenaries," the girl shot back insolently. "'Twould be best to check in the marketplace for that sort o' thing, y'know".

Scribbles smiled, but it was not a thing of mirth, rather it was something more akin to a wolf baring its fangs. Her eyes glittered as she looked down on the diminutive barmaid. "Aye, and I will be going there just as soon as I have eaten. But you will tell the barkeep what I have said regardless, won't you?"

The barmaid paled but nodded as she snatched the coin and hurried off. Scribbles allowed the wolfish smile to fade, then sat down and began to eat.

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Sat Aug 06, 2005 9:15 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Jiyadan » Fri Aug 05, 2005 9:30 pm

The hawk's cry caused Khiran to turn his eyes upward again, watching the bird soar on the waves of air. It made him long for the sea again, to feel the deck beneath his feet and sail as free as that bird. He rubbed his face, hiding a yawn behind one hand as his other stretched long, then both returned to link fingers behind his head. 'You're a long way from the sea now, Khiran,' he thought, closing his eyes.

The fire hissed beside him, beginning to wane from neglect now that the rabbit was eaten and gone. He now lay with stomach full at last and that would help him sleep. He missed the natural rocking of the ship, the roll of waves that would lull him into dreams. Since beginning his land-journey, sleep had seemed fleeting and troubled, the hard static earth so unnatural to him.

A moon now into his journey, Khiran could not help but question the certainty he had when he set out. Perhaps his dream had been indigestion and drink. Perhaps influenced from some yearning within but not meant to be a guide to his future. That old man had seemed a few planks shy of a full deck and it wasn't hard to attribute this to the insane leading the blind towards a cliff with a warning of 'watch that first step'.

Though he had dreamed that same dream the night before he set out, it had not repeated since. Was that because it was being fulfilled? Was it because he was on the wrong road entirely? But no, he could not shake the conviction he had that, even if a fool's errand, this was a necessary step in his life.

He opened his eyes, a last look at the horizon as the sun dipped beyond. The hawk's silhouette against the passion and crimson of the sky was striking, but he could not keep his eyes open and soon even his awareness was drifting on the winds as sleep found him at last.

Dawn's coming brought him back to the world, the lightening sky causing his eyes to flicker and open. Another morning come, another day formed. "More of the same, more of the same," he mumbled as he rubbed sleep from his eyes and scratched his chin. The water of a nearby stream refreshed him, the chill awakening his senses. Soon he returned to dress, collect his things and be on his way. As always, the hawk guided his steps, flying ever northward; ever northward towards his fate: uncertain; inescapable.
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Postby The_Fool » Sat Aug 06, 2005 8:22 pm

Htiet observed the newcomer out of the corner of his eye, assessing her. Her skin was a curiosity, especially against the pearly mass of her hair. She would have been an expensive slave if she had ever been taken to the city of Thes. Even more unusual was the way she walked, sword at her hip like a soldier. It still astonished him to see women garbed as warriors, in the East such a sight was almost a blasphemy. She glanced his way and he returned his gaze to the fire, not wanting to invite irritation or conversation by his scrutiny.

Wetting his lips he pulled his scimitar a little closer, wondering if he had enough money to pay for a drink. He didn’t want the serving maid’s meal, partially because he couldn’t afford it but more so because eating the bland Western food made him unbearably homesick. He missed the subtle spices, the infinite care that went into even the most humble of dishes. And he had dined on the more lavish of salaries.

The serving woman had returned, holding the meal out in front of him enticingly. His stomach growled despite himself. It had been a couple of days since he had last eaten. Even if the food was not to his liking, he still needed sustenance to survive. And he did want to survive. As much as he hated himself for failing the Hazir House, for finding his ever-present loyalty wanting, he had no desire to waste away in a fit of remorse. The black moods that took him were not so great as to block out his instinctive desire to keep going, keep moving, keep living even here. Where the days were as cold as the nights and he had to bundle himself in layers of clothing just to keep himself warm under a weak and watery sun.

“There you are sweetheart,” the woman said, winking as she heard his stomach rumble. “What do you say to coming over to a table and making yourself comfortable?” She pointed over at a table to make her meaning clear.

“I want to stay here,” Htiet spoke each word as clearly as he could through his thick accent. “By this.” He lapsed into Eastron, a little frustrated. "It’s warm by the fire woman and I’m freezing my tirba davut off. Your country is like a night buried in the sa kai desert sands of Harad. Do your piss-poor gods bury ice under the earth at sundown?”

“Oh so you do speak Westron!” The serving woman glanced over her shoulder then turned back with a slight shrug. “Alright then. But mind you don’t spill anything on the hearth or I’ll be the one who has to clean it up. And you wouldn’t want to make any extra work for me would you?” She grinned, exposing the missing tooth and patting his cheek again as she laid the food out on the small table beside him, more suited for ale mugs than plates, working around his hand which still held his sword close. “That’s quite an impressive blade.” She spoke sweetly, hand brushing his wrist as she reached across to lay out a bowl of steaming stew. “Don’t see one’s like that around much.”

“No,” Htiet said bluntly.

“What’s your name handsome?”

“Htiet.” The name tripped lightly off his tongue, two sharp, succinct syllables.

“Bless me if that isn’t a mouthful and a half!” the serving woman laughed. “Well, I suppose it’s not your fault. What with you living in that Eastron country of yours.”

“Tsayka,” Htiet muttered the insult, angry at the flippant way she dismissed his country, his home. He picked up the bowl of stew with one hand, bringing it to his lips and sipping. It was far too salty, the delicate flavour of the meat lost. He wrinkled his nose and said nothing more.

“Say, you look like the kind of man who might be interested in that woman’s proposition,” the serving maid exclaimed, tucking the now empty tray under her arm as she held out a hand for her tip. Htiet didn’t look up, continued to sip at the stew as he let go of his scimitar to fumble for a coin and press the first he found into her waiting palm. “She’s looking for fighting men. ‘Mercenaries’ I told her. She looked at me all nasty like and told me to make sure they were good at what they did.” She fixed him with a meaningful look.

“Huh,” Htiet grunted into his bowl.

“Well aren’t you good?” she asked. “You’ve got that great big sword, and that scar on your cheek. A couple on your hands too. Were you a soldier? I mean obviously you aren’t one anymore or you wouldn’t be here.”

Htiet tensed, his shoulders tightening at the slight. “Go away,” he growled.

The woman sniffed. “Fine. Maybe when you’re done eating you’ll feel more like talking.” She turned and flounced off, pausing by the Scribe’s table. “You might want to try him in the corner there. He’s rude as a cave troll wanting a bloody dinner and as close as courtier with a secret but the way he fiddles with that sword of his...” She shrugged as she trailed off. “But then, I’m just a serving wench Miss,” she emphasised the last word as if to shove the woman’s gender in her face, “I might not know the silk from the cotton.”
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Aug 06, 2005 9:51 pm

((OOC: My thanks, as always to Foolish for his bits . . . ))

IC:

Scribbles followed the entire conversation while she ate, endlessly amused by the fact that most people figured just because someone's back was turned, that they became deaf. In her case it was even less likely, her sharp peredhel hearing was perfectly capable of following every conversation in the entire room, even if it had been more crowded than it presently was.

The stew was saltier than she remembered and it spoiled the taste, but she was too hungry to care and she was fairly certain that she wouldn't see decent food again until the Lucky Fortune Inn, several days down the road. So she wolfed it down, ignoring the saltiness and mopping up the gravy with the one of the small barley cakes, those at least were soft and fragrant with parsley and basil.

" It’s warm by the fire woman and I’m freezing my tirba davut off. Your country is like a night buried in the sa kai desert sands of Harad. Do your piss-poor gods bury ice under the earth at sundown?”

She didn't understand every word, but she still had to bite back a snort of laughter at the Easterling's exchanges, peppered with rude words and curses that the barmaid obviously wouldn't know the meaning of.

She caught the man's name, Htiet, right after the discussion of his scimitar. She snorted softly to herself at the woman calling it a 'sword'. A scimitar was as much of a sword as a snake was a raisin, but the Easterling probably either didn't understand her use of the word, or thought it was not worth trying to explain the difference to someone he most likely viewed as too far beneath him to bother.

She sipped at her ale and listened to the rest of the conversation, carefully assessing the grunting response from the Easterling. So, was he a mercenary or not? There was only one way to find out. Her thoughts were interrupted by the barmaid herself, who stopped at her table.

“You might want to try him in the corner there. He’s rude as a cave troll wanting a bloody dinner and as close as courtier with a secret but the way he fiddles with that sword of his...” Scribbles remained silent, the woman shrugged and continued. “But then, I’m just a serving wench Miss. I might not know the silk from the cotton.”

'And you wouldn’t know a scimitar if it jumped up and bit you in the . . .' Scribbles let the uncharitable thought trail off and instead sat silently, long fingers caressing the beads of moisture on her tankard while the noise of the Easterling sipping at his dinner went on behind her. Her eyes fell on the plate of leftover barley cakes, two remained and they were still warm. She took a deep breath and rising to her feet, took the plate in one hand and her tankard in the other. Leaving her cloak at the table with the empty stewbowl, she turned and walked the few paces to where the Easterling was hunched over his meal. She cleared her throat and when he looked up, held out the plate.

"The salt spoils it, I know. Try the cakes, they are gently herbed and will cut the saltiness. The sa kai serving wench probably made the stew, usually it is quite good." She knew her Eastron was not completely fluent, but hopefully she hadn't mistaken any words and told him his underwear smelled of bananas or anything equally embarrassing.

He blinked and stared up at her, mouth opening a little in his surprise when she spoke his tongue. Then he grinned. “She’s a nosy little tsayka isn’t she? Doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.”

Her brow furrowed, he spoke quite fast and she caught only about half the words. But she was fairly sure she had grasped his meaning. "Aye," she replied in Westron, putting the plate of barley cakes down next to his scimitar on the table. She gave the weapon only a cursory glance, she had seen its like before, Matrim had carried twin scimitars of similar beauty. The thought of him gave her another pang of guilt and she pushed the memory away, hard. She held up her tankard. "Can I buy you something to ease your throat?" she asked in careful Eastron.

He sniffed, cleared his throat then put his bowl on the table next to his scimitar. ”Yes. Thank you. I’ll take whatever you want to buy. I don’t need anything fancy.”

She nodded. "Plain nut brown ale it is then." Without another word, she turned on her heel and went to the bar, had her own tankard refilled and ordered another one for the Easterling. 'Htiet' she reminded herself silently, letting the two syllables roll off her tongue mentally several times until she was certain she had it right. The barmaid gave her a broad wink as she took the coins for the ale.

"So, you going to hire that one then eh?" she asked. "Watch he don't cut your throat when you're sleeping now," she added with a nasal cackle of laughter. Scribbles picked up the tankards. "I don't sleep," she shot back, "so it's more likely to be me doing the throat cutting." She turned away, satisfied at the somewhat stunned look the barmaid got on her face.

She returned to where Htiet still crowded the fire. She set the tankards down, putting one right next to his elbow on the small table beside him. Then she took the poker and prodded the fire to life, adding a couple of small logs from the pile on the other side of the hearth. Satisfied at the result, she turned and with one long leg, hooked a neighboring empty chair over to the table next to Htiet and sat down. She leaned forward and nodded at his tankard, then lifted hers.

"To the gods of the desert, may they bring fortune on swift wings," she said solemnly, then drank deep.

The Easterling stared at her a moment, large almond-shaped eyes narrowing as if trying to assess her before he took a gulp from his tankard. He drank steadily then put the ale back on the table. “You know a traditional blessing,” he said abruptly. “It has been a long time since someone offered it to me in my own tongue.”

She sat back, deciding how much to admit and how much to keep to herself She decided that if this man were willing to accept an offer to fight for her coin, she would be best served with honesty. "I am a Scribe, a student of many things," she said slowly. "But I do not know nearly enough of your tongue," she added, then switched to Westron. "How much of mine do you have?"

“A little,” he admitted gruffly, his accent thick and heavy, stumbling a little over some words. “I know of more than I can speak.”

"It is the same for me with your language," she agreed, then leaned forward again. She looked at him boldly, estimating his height and weight and the strength of his hands. He looked like a fighter, but looks could be deceiving, she had to be sure. "No matter, what I want is simple enough. I need men to fight, and I will pay well. But I want warriors, not timid mice or sa kai drunkards." She took a deep drink from her tankard, wiping her mouth with the back of one hand. "So, Htiet of the East, do you want a job?"

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Sat Aug 06, 2005 11:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby The_Fool » Sat Aug 06, 2005 11:48 pm

It was a good question. Did he want a job? He knew he could use the money, the last of it would be gone once he had paid for this meal which would mean finding some dingy piss-poor stable to sleep in yet again. At least his horse never complained. It was a strong, proud looking beast he had taken from a wandering horse thief he had met on his tramp out of Rhûn. He had killed the owner, a man with more greed than sense it seemed who had shared his campfire then tried to slit his throat whilst he slept. The man he had left to the scavengers, the horse he called ‘Karma’.

He took a bite of one of the barley cakes, finding them more palatable than the stew and chewed whilst he thought. He needed this job. What’s more, he realised, he needed the chance to speak his own language and have someone answer him back. He missed home, and this woman, strange as she was, could give him that. Swallowing he flicked his strong, hilt-callused fingers, sending a few crumbs to the ground. “I need a job,” he said finally. “And I think I am the kind of man you are looking for.” He stopped then and took a drink of ale. “I used to be a bodyguard. A soldier in the crack regiment of Hazir. You decide if I am right for you.”

She nodded at the sheathed blade that lay near his hand. "You know how to use that then," she said, as much a statement as it was a question.

“I know how to use it,” Htiet replied. “Any bo'risebrayn who thinks he knew better than I isn’t alive to negate me.” Apart from one…The one who had killed his charge. He didn’t mention him.

Her eyes narrowed. "Have you ever fought a female?" she asked bluntly.

“Women,” he looked down at his scimitar, at the exquisitely fashioned scabbard. “Women are not to fight in Rhûn.”

"This is not Rhûn," she reminded him quietly.

He looked up at her sharply, dark eyes flashing. “No it is not. It is a miserable, cold, ritsay of a country.” The words tumbled out fast in his fury. A mercenary, this country had made him a mercenary who fought for money not loyalty or love of a Lord and his House. He looked away then, leaning closer to the fire and rubbing the scar on his cheek for a moment until he had calmed down. “Will I be wanted to fight women?”

She kept her face impassive. "Perhaps. The one I go to fight enslaves who and whatever he can. So if you're squeamish . . ." she trailed off.

He laughed sharply, the sound rough. ‘Squeamish’. It was hilarious. He had served Ba’radan S’ravsahiv Bhenan. He had been made to visit opium dens and set the young noble’s vicious dogs on the dealers if they had held out on the harak-anan, the God’s Gift his charge so badly desired. He had listened to their screams. Had seen slave girls wail as Bhenan, in a rage, threw entire braziers of hot coals at them, setting their light airy robes on fire. He had done it all because he had been loyal to that young lord’s father; he had held Hazir close to his heart. He had been honoured with the title of bodyguard by Ravsahiv Kimir, the man to whom he had given all of his devotion. He would have died, would still die, for that man. The son had been a bad seed, but he had been Kimir’s son and so with his death came punishment and exile. “You have nothing to worry about, Warrior," he said with a wry quirk of his mouth. "I am not ‘squeamish’.”

"Good." She bit the word off then lifted her chin at his attire and switched to Eastron. "Not weak for killing, but weak for the cold. You need warmer gear if you take the job."

Htiet clicked his tongue against his teeth. He needed at least three thick woollen robes for a desert night in Harad and vests made of bear fur right now. Never mind wherever it was she was planning on going. “Yes,” he said simply. “But my coin is short. So I wear this.”

"It will not do," she answered. "If you want the job, there will be an advance. Enough to buy warmer gear at the market across the road. If you don't want the job . . ." she shrugged. "Then I have bought you a drink."

“Sar,” he nodded, agreeing in Eastron. “A good drink. I will take your advance. I would like to be warm again. You have yourself a man.” He held out one rough, callused hand, the small scarred nicks around the knuckles telling of his profession as a former soldier. She took his wrist like a warrior, squeezing hard with iron strong fingers. Htiet was impressed and let a small, lop-sided grin move across his face. “Kai. That is quite a grip.”

She released his hand, her face impassive. "The result of many years at war," she replied.

“May the War God be good and strong. May his sword strike down our enemies like wheat at the scythe and let their blood water the earth. May his shield shelter our bodies from harm and his breath give us the strength to destroy all those who stand in our way,” Htiet murmured the ancient prayer to one of the East’s bloodier gods. He took a deep gulp of his drink then set the tankard down with a thump. “What is the name I will call you?”

"Scribe," she answered.

“Scribe,” he repeated the name, adding a sharp clearing of his throat on the first part of her name more akin to the Eastron way of speaking. It caused the ‘Scr’ of her name to come out ‘Skhr’. “Good.” He settled back and began to concentrate on eating the barley cakes she had given him. “When do we go?”
Last edited by The_Fool on Sun Aug 07, 2005 6:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sun Aug 07, 2005 1:27 am

"When do we go?"

"Tomorrow. But for now, we go to the market," she said, draining her tankard and rising to her feet. She dug into her vest pocket and selected several coins. She held them on the flat of her palm, counting carefully, then snapped them into her fist and held it out. "This will buy warmth, I will show you what you need," she finished as he held out his hand and she let the coins drop into it. He swallowed the last of the barley cake and drained his own tankard before rising and picking up his scimitar.

As he rose to his feet she marked his movements as well as his height. He moved well, like a cat, no wasted energy. Though he was not quite as tall as she expected and she was careful not to appear to be looking down at him. She went to collect her cloak and pulled it around her shoulders as Htiet belted on his weapon. He nodded and she led the way out of the Inn and across the still muddy street to the open marketplace.

The sun was bravely trying to burn its way through the remaining overcast but the resulting milky sunlight had little warmth to it. Fall was well advanced and winter was not far behind, the wind had an edge to it that even she could feel as it ruffled her hair. She walked slowly among the stalls and tables, passing most of them without a glance. What she sought was one of the open box wagons. She had caught sight of plainly made but warm clothing on her way into the village and it was this same wagon that she led Htiet to.

As they strolled up, a young man jumped down and ran his fingers through a mop of stringy, reddish hair. "Good afternoon milord and milady and a grand day it is too! Though the nights are getting a mite nippy, am I right? I see you are thinking the same as anyone with any sense, it's time to look into something new that'll keep you warm . . ." He had approached them and was acting far too familiar for her taste, when one hand plucked at her sleeve she shot him a clear warning look and pushed him away from her.

"I am no lady and this is not my lord," she grated. The young man flushed then backed up until he bumped against the corner of his wagon. But he quickly regained his composure as he watched Htiet pick up a heavy woolen shirt then grimace with distaste. He hurried over and fairly snatched the shirt from the Easterlings hands, as Scribbles leaned against the side of the wagon and folded her arms over her chest.

"I'd be a bit more courteous to him if I were you," she drawled, nodding at the curved sheath that Htiet wore on his hip. The young man paled and then moved back towards Scribbles. "Does he understand Westron?" he whispered loudly. Scribbles shot Htiet a meaningful glance then looked back at the young man. "I don't think so," she answered, "but that's not important. What is important is that we want quality, warm gear, we will pay a fair price but if you attempt to cheat us I will cut your heart out and feed it to my fine Eastern friend over there." Htiet was still looking at the various items and appeared to be paying them no attention whatsoever, but Scribbles knew he was probably listening and trying to catch as much of the conversation as he could.

The young man swallowed hard. "Wh-wh-what exactly can I show you then?" he asked nervously. Scribbles pushed away from the wagon and uncrossed her arms as she began to move down one side of the wagon. She reached up and felt several items in turn, working her way around the rear of the wagon and up the other side. When she had made a complete circuit, she beckoned to the young man and slowly returned the way she had come, pointing as she went.

"That raw silk undertunic, no the one with the long sleeves, yes, that one. And the dark wool shirt, the soft one not that scratchy thing I'm sure you made out of old horse blankets. And the sheepskin vest, the one with the heavier lacing." They were now back to where Htiet was standing, a heavy woollen coat over one arm. Scribbles approached him and took the coat, shaking her head. "No a cloak will be warmer, trust me," she said quietly then handed the coat back to the young man who was scrambling to keep up with her. "That cloak there," she asked him. "I want to see it."

The redhead hung the coat back on its peg and then climbed up to hand down the greyish green cloak to Scribbles. "That there is genuine elvish wool," he crowed proudly as he jumped down. Scribbles fixed him with an intense glare. "It is? You are certain of that claim?" she asked. The young man nodded vigourously and puffed out his chest. "Oh yes ma'am, when it comes to elvish wool, I'm an expert round these parts. No one knows more about genuine elvish wool than me, sure as I'm standin' here."

Scribbles ran the cloak through her fingers slowly. There was surely some elvish wool in it, her sensitive fingers caught the unique feel of it, but it was faint and thin. She looked back at the redhead. "There are only a few fragments of elvish wool in here," she corrected him. "Leftovers, gleanings, as in someone pulled apart a different garment and twisted a few threads in with the rest of the ordinary wool."

"Oh no, you're quite mistaken ma'am, yes you are. That there is genuine elvish wool and if you ain't going to buy it. . ." He lifted the cloak from her hands with an disdainful look.

Scribbles leaned over so that her face was quite near the young mans. She reached up and raked one hand through her hair, exposing one unmistakably pointed ear. "Oh, I think I know quite a lot more about elvish wool than you," she said softly as the redhead's eyes widened. "And I'm telling you there isn't enough elvish wool in that cloak to make it worth the price you're asking. Care to dispute it any further, hmmmm?"

"I . . . I . . . um . . . I . . . " the man sputtered, holding the cloak in front of him like a shield. "It's what the travelling merchant told me!" he suddenly wailed. "I trusted him, you know, being a man of the cloth and all. How was I supposed to know he'd cheat me!"

Scribbles' eyes narrowed at the mention of the merchant. "Was he a fat man, tonsured, about so tall?" she asked. The young man nodded vigourously, and Scribbles burst out laughing. Cornelius. She might have known.

"Well, perhaps next time you'll be more discerning," she said, sobering. She pointed to a different cloak, this one a rich brown with a hood lined with beaver fur. "Give us that one," she said, and the young man hurried to comply.

She beckoned Htiet forward and spoke softly. "Three coins is fair for what I have picked out for you, but no more," she said. "When you are done, meet me at the leather merchant's table."

She moved off to allow Htiet to finish the purchase, he had been looking at other items though she wasn't sure whether he had decided to buy any of them. To linger while he finished the bargaining would be to risk his pride and honour, women did not buy things for men in his culture unless they were very rich and the men were little more than male courtesans. She did not wish to offend him and besides that, she needed to look for a few supplies of her own.

She threaded her way through the crowded market for where she had seen the leather merchant's table.

.
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Postby Frelga » Sun Aug 07, 2005 1:41 am

Radesh pulled his damp hood closer around his face. After weeks in the wild air of the hills, the stink of the wretched village was sickening. The men here all wished they could be somewhere else, preferably very far away, and they took revenge on the place for being around them. But every time he came down, he found that market was more crowded with sellers and buyers. And furs brought better coin every time.

Radesh treated himself to a fried honey cake from a stand, and a mug of hot cider from another. He walked between tables and carts, checking off a list of supplies in his head. Arrows, or maybe just arrowheads. The bow he made himself, and it served him well, though it was light and required him to get right next to the deer. But he needed good arrows, and also…

He froze. Then he rubbed his eyes and looked again. Only then did he approach the faded wagon of a weapons seller. His hand moved of its own will, and brushed the silver-etched hilt of a slender, slightly curved saber.

"You are far from home, djigit." The merchant, a wiry man whose skin was baked into scarlet folds, grinned at Radesh.

"So I am," Radesh replied, surprised that the merchant knew what he was. "And so are these swords. How did you get them?"

"Bought them from another, how else? Wish I didn't, though. Haven't sold a single one yet."

"It's flimsy! I could break it with my fingers." A disappointed customer threw the words over his shoulder as he walked away.

"It's a shashko," Radesh replied, appalled. "It doesn't break. Watch." He raised his eyebrows at the seller in a silent question. The merchant shrugged his assent. Radesh wrapped his fingers around the hilt - a familiar, comfortable fit. With a happy sigh, the blade came out of the sheath.

Radesh placed the tip on the ground and with a quick move brought his heel down on the blade. It bent and sprung back, unharmed. "It never breaks. If the Sea-King carried a hill blade, they wouldn't have to reforge it for the battle."

"Just what I told you," the merchant put in.

"Maybe, but it's too light to put against a heavier sword," the customer argued. He had the rigid back and the slightly lost look of a soldier whose service is no longer needed in war.

"Test it," Radesh told him, holding out the blade in a defensive position.

"Ha! Wouldn't want to hurt you."

Radesh laughed. "If you can do that, let it be on my head." With a shashko in hand, he felt equal to anything and anybody, even though it was a lesser blade made for sale downhill.

The soldier pulled out his own sword and brought it down in a slow, measured arc. The blades clanged, and then the straight sword dove down, while the shashko swooped up unchecked to an inch of the soldiers neck.

"Faster?" Radesh asked. His opponent grunted and nodded and tried again, and again. Every time the hillman's blade turned aside the attack. The shashko rang happily, and Radesh felt old, fierce joy flow into him.

A small crowd gathered by now, keeping a respectful distance away from the blade. The merchant tried not to rub his hands too visibly. Radesh grinned at him. "I'll tell you what. I will stay around, show these men what your swords can do. So maybe you'll sell some after all. And you will give me one in payment. Do we have a deal?"

They did. The merchant even had a bowl of stew brought from the inn, to stop Radesh from walking away for some food. By then, the first sale had been made, to the soldier who seemed to blame his old sword for his loss of position.

"Have you a piece of silk?" Radesh asked. One was found - a pale yellow strip of the real Eastern stuff.

"Can you really do that one?" the merchant asked, impressed, as he held it up.

Could he? It's been two years since he tried last. In his mind, Radesh saw the cave that was the refuge of the Last Dozen and the orange glow of ambers reflected on the frozen walls. His friend - dead now - held up a crimson scarf taken off a killed Easterling. "Go on, Radesh, show how it's done," he urged, his teeth gleaming as he grinned. "Ready? Now!"

The silk strip was released, and the shashko flashed to meet it in a terrible wrist stroke that would split a rider from shoulder to the saddle. Two pieces of yellow floated down into the mud.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sun Aug 07, 2005 12:12 pm

Avoiding settlements was becoming more difficult. The wild hid many small villages in its wide expanse and he wanted no trouble with any of them. Staying mostly off the well-trod roads, his progress was slow and at times stopped entirely by unexpected cliffs or impassible rivers.

Still, he pressed on, found other ways around, sometimes backtracking days to find a place from which he could continue. His journey took him past mountains, through forests, across plains and always north and west. The soft sand of his home gave way to the thick grasses, the hard rock melting into stands of trees. The further he pressed, the green of the north also began to fade into the rich colours of autumn: brown, gold and crimson blanketing the landscape.

He had never before seen such a sight and perhaps he could have appreciated it more had it not been accompanied by a bitter change in the weather. The wind blew fiercely from the mountains, the chill reaching his very bones. The icy rain fell in waves, drenching everything including wood until a fire was an impossibility even if he had been able to find a dry spot to build it.

The loss of the sun for days or even weeks at a time, hidden behind the dense blanket of clouds, would have seriously hindered his ability to navigate this god-forsaken land if it had not been for the hawk that constantly guided him on. His legs ached for the sea once again, to find his firm footing on the bucking deck of a corsair ship.

His senses felt dulled here, no rich scent of amber, no strong flavor of spices, no brilliant sea-scapes or women who could destroy you with a look. Gone were the songs of the gulls, the music of the Shi'uri, the sighs of the women. All around him was muted and bland. What he needed was a night of home to refresh his blood.

Laying back under the protective lip of a small hollow worn into a rock, he watched the rain fall, listened to the trees groan in the wind, shivering in the unbearable cold. He missed the heat of the sun on his face and shoulders, missed the salty wind that blew over the waves. He missed especially the black-eyed women of the docks who could give a man all he desired for a night and a coin.

When sleep at last found him, he dreamt. A sword of pearl against a field of blue, the standard of Harad, a bridge. This time there was more, however. Now he saw also a black and gold serpent twisting around the sword - the emblem of the Rhûn. His lips curled into a sneer in his dream.

A bolt of lightening woke him abruptly from sleep as the thunder rolled quickly after it. The storm was right over him, raging around as though the gods themselves fought above him. He pressed back into the hollow a bit further, clutching his wet clothes tight around himself. He had never felt so miserable in all his miserable life.

He knew that he would need to find a town soon, a village or settlement, somewhere he could barter for food and clothing. He knew so little of the lands here and was unskilled in what was good to eat and what was not. Even if he had managed to catch a rabbit or squirrel he had no fire to cook it over and his stomach churned with days of hunger.

"At least there is plenty of water," he shouted into the storm, but the storm did not care. It raged on without another thought to the wretch caught in it.

Khiran was neither aware of when he fell asleep again nor of when the storm had ceased. He woke and looked out into the trees, the morning, dulled by the clouds, filtered down through the canopy above. The rain still fell though only lightly now and he figured most of that was falling from the trees rather than the sky anyway.

His body was stiff, his joints aching with cold when he pushed himself up and looked around. He had stumbled across this protected lee after dark and now for the first time caught a glimpse of his new surroundings properly. He couldn't tell why, but there was something about where he was, something... different... unusual. Almost unnatural except that it seemed just the opposite, more natural if that were possible.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun Aug 07, 2005 5:34 pm

"Three coins is fair for what I have picked out for you, but no more," she said. "When you are done, meet me at the leather merchant's table."

Htiet nodded, waving her away as he leant over a pair of sheepskin gloves. Rubbing the chestnut coloured outer leather between finger and thumb he found it smooth and supple, whilst the inside was of soft white fleece. He slipped one hand inside, flexing his fingers to test the fit. A little tight around the knuckles but otherwise the fit was good. He smiled; a quick rough grin. So far the only pair of gloves he had been able to afford were cheap wool and fingerless. They had served to take the bite off the beginning of the Western autumn but now they were thinning and the tips of his fingers were like ice in the early mornings.

“How are you doing ummm….Sir?” the young man asked, coming up beside Htiet nervously.

“These,” Htiet said bluntly, pulling the glove off his hand and slapping it along with its mate into the redhead’s chest as his eyes continued to scan the wagon.

“Ouff!” the youth let out a sharp breath of air and staggered back a few steps as the Easterling’s hand came in contact with his chest. Htiet gave him a curious look over his shoulder then turned back to the wagon.

Running the tips of his fingers over a few more of the seller’s wares he picked up a pair of thick woollen socks then turned back to him. For a moment Htiet studied him, the pale nervous expression, the stringy red hair. Did the people of the West never wash? The man’s hair was filthy. Htiet sniffed and thumbed the side of his nose before pointing to the pile the Scribe had made for him. “How much?”

“W – What?”

“How…..Much?” Htiet slowed down, pronouncing the unfamiliar words as best his accent would allow.

“Five,” the young man said, wetting his lips and reaching out nervously to pluck the socks from the Easterling's grasp. “With the socks and the gloves it’s five.”

“Five,” Htiet snorted as if amused, resting his weight back on one foot, his hand closing languidly around the hilt of his scimitar. “This much.” He held up one finger.

“No. No, no,” the redhead shook his head vigorously. “Five…alright four. Four. I’ll take four and no less.”

Htiet clicked his tongue. “No. This much.” He held up the one finger again. Salesmen. They were the same everywhere it seemed.

“No I really can’t,” he shifted from one foot to the next, eyeing Htiet’s weapon. “Maybe…maybe it would be less in the East. I’ll make it three. I have a family to feed. Ten children and all of them almost fully-grown. They need the protein. My mother is sick and….”

Htiet grinned, the smile exposing brilliant white teeth in stark contrast to the black of his beard and the dark of his skin. The smile cut the young man short; apparently it was not the sort of reaction he expected. “Your mother, sick? And family,” Htiet tutted. “Ai. Not so different….from the East. The same tricks.” He held up two fingers, his face going blank. “This much.”

“This much,” the redhead held up three fingers and almost dropped the socks on the damp, muddy ground.

“This much,” Htiet growled, starting to lose his patience, two fingers jabbing the salesman in the chest. “No more.”

The youth swallowed, glanced at the pile of clothes. “You think two?”

“Sar. Two. Two and - ” He grinned wolfishly. “Two and my Western friend doesn’t cut out your heart for me to eat.”

The young man gave an alarmed squawk. “You heard that?”

Htiet winked and slapped two coins down onto the wagon top. With a slightly sheepish grin the young man scooped them up, pocketed them and gathered up the Easterling’s purchases. He wrapped them all in the long cloak before handing them over with a brief cough.

“Nice ah…doing business with you,” he offered, pushing his dirty hair back off his pale white forehead.

Htiet pressed the palm of his hand to his heart and bowed, just a fraction, then turned and strode back through the crowd towards the leather merchant’s table. He did not have to weave his way through the crowd. Upon seeing him, the crowd parted very rapidly for him.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sun Aug 07, 2005 7:39 pm

She was nearly to the leather merchants table when she heard the unmistakable sound of swords clashing. Moving silently, she passed around the gathering crowd like a shadow and found herself a good view over the heads of a short, stocky man and his rather more stocky and shorter wife. She watched as two men traded blows, one a scruffy looking type and the other bearing the familiar look of a retired, or outlawed, soldier. Time after time, the scruffy looking man got the best of the soldier, until he tired of the contest and yielded.

She heard the man proposition the merchant, then watched impassively as he turned to the now gathered crowd. As he faced outward she recognized his race, a hillman and unless she missed her guess, from the south.

She watched him closely as the shashko flashed and the silk parted. Appreciative murmurs ran all around the crowd, but closest to her there was a sudden and marked silence. She turned to see Htiet standing calmly at her elbow, his arms filled with the cloak wrapped purchases and his dark eyes glittering.

She spoke quietly in Eastron. "Did you see the silk?" she asked softly.

Htiet nodded once, scratching his chin thoughtfully before answering. “Quick. He’s missing some fingers.”

She nodded. "Yes. Do you think that affects his skill?"

“I think it might affect his temper more than anything,” the Easterling remarked. “Make him do something stupid if he’s goaded about it. That sword could be broken too, with the right weapon. An Idanahli,” he referred to the unusual Eastern daggers which carried a slit in the centre of the blade, “could snap it at the hilt with the right twist of the wrist.”

She understood only part of his answser, but knew the Eastern weapon he referred to. "Yes, it is not a good example of a shashko," she agreed quietly, then suddenly pushed the stocky man in front of her aside and stepped into the clear space in front of the hillman.

"Impressive trick, especially with such an inferior blade," she said calmly. The hillman's eyes narrowed slightly.

She stepped over to the table and hefted several of the sheathed weapons as the merchant looked on anxiously. From under a pile of shabbier looking weapons, she pulled another shashko, the silver etched hilt almost a match for the one the hillman still held. She drew the weapon from its sheath and tossed it at him, noting how quickly and deftly he switched hands to catch the incoming hilt.

She smiled and drew the large, rune-etched broadsword at her hip, then saluted him, knowing full well how far above her head the long blade went, the razor sharp edges glittering in the pale sunlight. Then she dropped into a defensive stance.

"Now, would you like to test the mettle of that shashko, hmmm?" she asked with a wolfish grin.

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Last edited by SilverScribe on Mon Aug 08, 2005 10:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Frelga » Mon Aug 08, 2005 10:25 pm

That was to be a day for surprises, then. Radesh eyed the tall, pearly-haired apparition who not only knew what a shashko was, but could apparently tell a trade sword from the real thing just by looking.

Radesh faced the….woman, he realized. This village was a stranger place than he had known. He noted the hard muscles and the comfortable stance. The broadsword was an old friend, he concluded, and if she could wield a sword like this one and survive, she must have been good.

"You have a good eye," he replied good-naturedly. "That one is better, but just about any shashko is better than a plains-forged blade. But yours is a good sword." He studied the broadsword with appreciation, noticing how it shimmered around the edges, as if the daylight was trying to back away from the blade. "It's longer, so there's an advantage. Still, it's heavy, and that makes the swing wider and harder to turn around. The shashko turns quicker than a bat." The blade blurred into a silvery butterfly wing as he demonstrated. "And in a long battle the heavier sword would tire one out faster. I prefer a shashko myself, but I think you will want to keep your own blade."

She raised one eyebrow. "Things are not always as they seem hillman, and this blade is one of them. If you think you can break it, you are welcome to try."

Radesh shrugged. "Your blade looks good to me. I hope it is all it seems to be. Why would I want to break it?"

"To test the mettle of the shashko you now hold," she replied with a smile. "I am willing to help you do that."

"Hey, that's my sword he's got," the merchant interrupted. "If he breaks it, who's going to pay me?"

"It doesn't break. Not even this one," the hillman explained patiently, without taking his eyes off the swordswoman. He had no wish to take up her challenge. If he did, then he would have to take the next one, and another, until someone got hurt and Radesh got blamed. But this village was not a place to be seen backing away. "Very well, then, if you must."

She brought the tip of the broadsword up so that it pointed directly at his heart. "I am looking to hire a swordsman. If you have no stomach for a challenge, then perhaps you also have no stomach for a job. In that case, my mistake, hillman."

Radesh frowned, wary. He'd thought there was some cold purpose behind those violet eyes. "So. It's not about the blade after all, is it? Hire, did you say? What for?"

"For a fight. Possibly involving swords. Like this one. Think you're up to it?" She grinned wolfishly

Radesh almost slapped his forehead, forgetting that he held a sword in his hand. Hire. A swordsman. A guard for some journey most likely. How was it possible that he had never even considered that before? He had spent a year walking the roads, doing odd jobs, hungry and exhausted, and getting no closer, when he could've hired himself out to some merchant, and been paid for the same journey. He could have been home by now.

The sword seller broke in again, agitated. "Hey, what about my swords? You promised you'd stick around, djigit."

"So I will," Radesh snapped. He turned his attention back to the swordswoman. "Can you wait till the market closes, and then we'll talk?" He thought for a moment. "But if it's a test you want, I can give you that now. Though if I were going up against that sword of yours in earnest, I'd take a shield or a dagger to back up the shashko."

She shrugged. "Perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone. You get to test that blade, I get to test your skill, and later, we can talk. Pick up whatever else you think you'll need."

Radesh stood still for a moment, weighing the sword in his hand, listening to it. His damp hair was drying into a mass of dark coils, giving him a fierce, unkempt look, though his eyes were calm and thoughtful. At last he nodded. "Very well. If you are looking for a dagger, his are good." He picked one up - a straight, triangular blade - and took it in his mangled left hand. "I am ready."
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Postby SilverScribe » Tue Aug 09, 2005 8:30 am

She watched him drop in to the easy stance of one who knew the business of swordplay. She sensed a deep confidence in his manner, tempered perhaps by the one maimed hand, but still strong. And both his previous experience with the retired soldier and the classic silk demonstration had bolstered him as well. She let a slight grin crook one side of her mouth as she purposely dropped the point of the broadsword towards the dust. With her free hand, she unclasped her cloak and tossed it onto the weapons table, then reached out and beckoned to him as one would beckon a lover.

"Come then hillman, the first move is yours," she said softly.

She was pleased to see him pause, wary of a possible trap. She lifted the tip of her sword only a fraction and instantly he moved, the shashko flashing in the weak sunlight. With a silvery ring, it stopped against the elven blade. In less than a heartbeat the shashko was in a different place and again, it met her sword. Radesh's eyes narrowed.

They traded strokes steadily, moving like dancers through the open space that had quickly cleared around them. Radesh's movements flowed with his blade, almost as if the shashko was thinking and planning and not the man. She nodded to herself, that instinct was what separated mere technicians from true, natural fighters.

And he was fast, there was no doubt about it. As the minutes stretched out, a fierce smile played over her lips and the silver flecks in the deep, blue-violet depths of her eyes danced. There was a look of unmistakable enjoyment on her face and Radesh seemed to catch her mood as their sparring took on a less demonstrative style and became more combative. Not that it would be obvious to anyone in the village crowd, unless they were seasoned fighters themselves. But the depth in the sound of their blades changed slightly, the bell-like tones deepening as their blows began to increase in both intensity and intent.

Radesh began to sweat, while she remained cool and unruffled, the strength in her arm unflagging as she continued to turn first the shashko and then the dagger. But the hillman was not to be rattled, even when she picked up the pace.

A few more minutes passed and she decided she had seen enough. With a carefully placed flick of the long broadsword, the dagger was sent spinning to the dust at the feet of the crowd. The next stroke of Radesh's shashko came in low and lightning fast but she knew exactly what he intended. It was a classic move designed to take out a knee and cripple an opponent before delivering the fatal blow. She dropped her shoulder and twisted the long blade through a far tighter loop than would have been possible with an ordinary broadsword. As expected, the hillman's weapon slipped underneath and she slammed Celebamarth down hard, driving fully half of the blade of the shashko into the dirt between them. Before Radesh could blink, the flat of the long elven blade was lifting his chin, its deadly edge an inch from his throat.

His eyes met hers calmly. She stepped back and saluted him gravely, then sheathed her blade. "Well done hillman, your skill is undeniable and if you still want a job, see me at the Inn this evening." She turned to the merchant and fixed him with a steady, unblinking gaze. "And I think this merchant owes you that fine blade," she said, jerking her chin at the shashko hilt that still stuck up from the ground, quivering, at Radesh's feet.

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Last edited by SilverScribe on Thu Aug 11, 2005 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Frelga » Thu Aug 11, 2005 9:59 am

She was good, oh, she was good. Radesh knew that, as soon as they exchanged a few appraising strokes. He saw her smile and grinned back with the same fierce pleasure, his teeth gleaming in his black-bearded face. Faster and faster they moved together - a dance to the beat of the swords.

In a heartbeat, it was over. The tip of her sword was at his throat. The swordswoman gave him a moment to acknowledge his defeat, then stepped back and saluted the hillman. Radesh slapped his hip in frustration at having been beaten. Ah well, he was out of practice, and the dagger was no defense against the heavy broadsword, serving instead as a diversion for his opponent. But, win or lose, he had enjoyed himself more than he did in a long, long time.

"Well done hillman, your skill is undeniable and if you still want a job, see me at the Inn this evening. And I think this merchant owes you that fine blade," she said, jerking her chin at the shashko hilt that still stuck up from the ground, quivering, at Radesh's feet.

Radesh wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his heavy woolen shirt and undid the clasp at the throat of the sheepskin vest that was his only protection against cold. "I will meet you after the market closes," he promised as he retrieved the shashko. "My name is Radesh." His breath was still heavy but he smiled again, forgetting about the scar that pulled at the corner of his mouth.

"I am called Scribe," she replied with a light bow. Radesh watched her walk away, towards the leather seller's stand.

The merchant's petulant voice broke in. "Hey, you can't have that sword. It's much too fine, look at the silverwork." A few villagers stepped up closer, admiring the sword that had acquitted itself so well.

"We have a bargain," Radesh reminded him, frowning slightly. Trust a peddler to go back on his word. The hillman didn't mean to look intimidating, but there was something about the dark, heavy eyebrows and the scarred face that made the merchant blanch.

"Yes, yes, of course we do." The sword seller waved both hands at Radesh. "But it doesn't matter to you what the sword looks like, does it, as long as it's a good sword. Is that not true?"

"What do you mean, looks like?"

"Well, this one," the merchant rummaged inside the wagon, "see, the sheath is plain and a little scuffed, and the fools say that the beast on the blade looks evil. But it's a fine sword, a fine sword. Here." He pulled out a shashko, slightly longer and wider than the first two, and handed it to Radesh.

The sheath was indeed plain black leather, rubbed to gray in places, and there was no trace of silver on the hilt. Radesh returned the weapons he used for the combat, and took the shashko in both hands. The blade was dark with a bluish sheen, and unmarked by any runes or signs. There was only a small figure near the hilt, which looked like a flying wolf or an eagle with teeth. Radesh knew that mark.

Swords like this were never sold, certainly not to lowlanders. Some scavenger must have found it on a battlefield, taking the sword from a dead hand. "I thank you," Radesh said, sheathing the shashko with gentle reverence.

"Ha! He thanks me. You should. I am not blind, djigit. I know it's the real thing. But try proving that to those oafs," the merchant grimaced at a rough-looking man who was fingering the silver hilt of the trade sword.

The real thing. Blades like this cut through chain mail as easily as fish cuts through water. That it should come to him today, when the mysterious woman appeared to look for a swordsman, could not be called a chance. But was it his destiny that brought him here, Radesh wondered, or was it hers?
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Postby The_Fool » Sat Aug 13, 2005 9:43 pm

Until the moment she drew the sword, Htiet had held the sceptical view on the woman’s ability as a fighter. It was not that he didn’t note the warrior’s swagger to her walk, or the strength in her hands, it was simply the accumulation of social and cultural blinds his country had placed upon him. In the East women simply did not fight. Or at least not as well as a man.

Yet Htiet was not affronted by the ease with which his new employer parried and attacked the stranger. Rather he was drawn into the battle, watching as they first tested one another, then began in earnest, with the interest. He drank in the way she moved, deadly, graceful, with no wasted energy. Each step, twist of the torso or wrist, tense of the shoulder and sweep of the arm were perfectly calculated. Each made with the utmost confidence in their ability to deal out death.

The hillman was tiring, his breath a little ragged whilst Scribe stayed cool and collected as she flicked the dagger from his hand with the tip of her broadsword. Htiet could see the light of pride in the man’s eyes, and rather than admit defeat it seemed he was planning on something dangerously stupid considering his opponent’s current unruffled physical state. He came in fast and low, quick as a snake, impressing Htiet with his strength in exhaustion. He was a man to watch. A man who fought to the end.

But the Scribe dropped her shoulder and looped her weapon in tight, a move Htiet would never have dreamed of employing had he been the one in her place. His own reaction would have been to leap back, twisting his body as he brought his scimitar down on a hard angle calculated to jar the wrist and numb it as he knocked the weapon down into the muck. Yet as the shashko came sluicing upwards she beat it down with a clean downward blow, driving half of it into the mud with the strength of her arm. Within a heartbeat the tip of that deadly sword was under her opponent’s chin, ready to cut the throat. Htiet smiled, a soft sideways quirk of his mouth, and shifted his hold on his new warm clothes.

He lost interest as Scribe lowered her blade and returned it to its scabbard. Eyes wandering he kept one ear on the conversation. It moved a little too fast for him to keep up with at this distance. When the Scribe came up beside him he focused, falling into step beside her as she moved away from the circle. “So, I have company now in employment or did you bruise his pride too much for him to agree?” the Easterling asked, giving a broad grin which showed the ivory white of his teeth against his dark skin.

“He has agreed to meet me later,” the woman replied, looking at him out of the corner of her eye and smiling the smallest of fractions as she saw his grin. “I see you enjoyed the show, Htiet.”

“Very much,” he agreed, freeing one hand to rub his chin with strong, dark fingers. “I haven’t seen a sword like yours used so well before. You are like the War God, ready to surprise those who think they know everything.” It was not something Htiet had ever envisioned himself saying to a woman but now that he had, he did not feel strange in doing so. She was a fighter, as he was. There was no denying skill.

“War is all I have ever known,” she said, shrugging. “The sword…” she trailed off then continued, “is…special. It is Elven forged.”

“That makes it change?” Htiet inquired, curious and eager to know more. “Makes it different and easier to wield? Not as heavy perhaps?”

She nodded. “Not heavy but light,” she agreed. “But it still requires skill to wield, it is a long blade.”

Htiet nodded, pleased with the answer. “And strength. Did you leave the man’s blade whole for him or could you not break it?”

“What do you think?” she asked, turning to fix strange violet eyes on him. It was something about Westerners that did intrigue Htiet. The varying colours of their eyes, clean and clear as jewels.

“I think you could have snapped it like it was sa kai sugar glass,” Htiet said simply, then laughed roughly.

“Do you?” she replied, the hint of a smile behind her eyes though her lips never moved. She switched to Westron, one hand resting easily on the hilt of her sword. “A shashko is nearly impossible to break. But yes, I could have sheared it off at the hilt.”

Htiet gave a slow sideways smirk and nodded, then turned to watch the way ahead. He did not seem to notice the startled second glances shot his way, the unsubtle scrambling of bodies to remove themselves from his path. It was not that he exuded an exceptionally threatening vibe, it was just that he was an Easterling with a weapon and an unmistakable aura of command. After a moment of silence he spoke again. “What are we doing now? We wait for the shashko fighter now or later?”
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Aug 13, 2005 11:44 pm

She found Htiet's questions encouraging, he was eager to learn and had a healthy curiosity. She answered him truthfully, well, as truthfully as she dared. She didn't elaborate on the capabilities of the big broadsword at her hip, she made no mention of the elven runes nor of the deadly charm that the sword possessed. There would be time enough for all that, at the moment, she was more concerned with picking up a few supplies and concluding a bit of necessary business.

“What are we doing now? We wait for the shashko fighter now or later?”

"I need to find that leather merchant and then pick up some supplies, just enough to get us to the Lucky Fortune Inn at the Last Bridge," she replied. "It will not take long, then we will go back to the Inn where it is warm and wait for the shashko fighter." She used his term and grinned slightly at him as she said it. Htiet nodded silently, but she suspected he would have preferred to return to the hearth in the common room sooner than later.

As she strolled with Htiet, she noticed the way the crowds moved aside and had to stifle a derisive snort. These villagers had likely not seen the worst of the War, yet they knew enough to label the Easterling with her as an old enemy. She was less concerned than they that he was of the East. She needed skilled fighters, and her instincts told her that the two men she had found here would be more than capable of handling themselves in a fight.

They found the leather merchants stall and she pulled the sheathed elven long knife from her belt. Beckoning to the merchant, she explained what she needed, the part of the sheath that attached to her swordbelt was badly worn and needed replacing. "Can you fix it?" she asked, "Yes, but see this piece here?" The man held the sheath up and pointed with a gnarled finger. "I will have to replace this whole section, otherwise, the seam will get in the way of the cross pieces and the blade will not draw smoothly." She looked carefully where he was indicating and nodded both understanding and agreement. "Aye, you are right goodman. How much to replace that whole piece then?" She haggled with him good naturedly and they settled on a fair price. "I need it done by tomorrow at market opening," she warned. The merchant waved her away, promising that it would be ready for her in the morning. Nodding, she moved off.

They visited several other stalls, Scribbles carefully bargaining for a spare bowstring, a new flint and steel and a few foodstuffs like dark bread, a round of firm, ripe cheese, dried meat and fruit and a small sack of ground coffee. When she was done, they moved out of the market and returned to the Inn, where Htiet went in ahead while she carefully stowed the provisions in her saddlebags. She led her horse next door to the stables and giving the stable boy a small coin, found a reasonably clean stall where she unsaddled the animal and rubbed him down. "Seems we'll be spending the night, old son," she murmured in Sindarin, then drew a blanket over the tall warhorse and left him to drowse. She instructed the stable boy to water and feed the horse at sundown, then headed back to the Inn, her pack slung over one shoulder.

She found the Easterling in the common room, huddled up next to the fire once more. She stopped at the bar and paid for a room with nearly the last of her coin. Crossing the room, she dropped her pack to the floor and sat down at the table next to Htiet, where the bundle of his new clothes took up most of the table's surface. She signalled the barmaid and ordered them ale, then leaned forward towards the welcome warmth.

"Do you have a place to sleep?" she asked.

“With my horse,” Htiet replied with a snort.

She nodded, it was not uncommon. She had spent her share of nights in various stables throughout her long years. "Take my room," she answered. It will be warmer and I do not need it."

"Fine" he replied in the easy, no nonsense tone of one used to obeying orders without question.

She patted the pile of clothing on the table. She spoke slowly, not because she thought he would understand any better, but so that he would have time to pick out the words he could understand.

"Tomorrow, put the raw silk undertunic next to your skin, it is cool in summer but warm in winter. The woolen shirt goes next, then the sheepskin vest. The cloak is two layers of good northern wool and there is a chamois lining in between that will cut the wind. The hood is lined with beaver fur and will keep your head both warm and dry."

He was silent a moment, dark eyes flicking from one item of clothing to the other as he absorbed her words. Finally he spoke, replying in Eastron. “I will be keeping my shirt.” His fingers brushed the black cloth, the frayed gold embroidery. Something in the way he said it hinted at the importance of this piece of clothing, battered now but still undoubtedly expensive.

She noted the intricate embroidery on the parts of the shirt she could see. It was beautiful work, for all that it was worn to an elegant shabbiness. She shrugged. "Keep it, but wear something clean underneath it. Dirty clothes are not as warm as clean."

He appeared to almost bristle at the word ‘dirty’. Dark eyes narrowed slightly and his mouth set in a firm line. With a sharp snort he turned back to eye the clothes on the table but said nothing.

She guessed that she had offended him and took a draught from her ale before leaning forward to catch his eye. "If I have offended, I beg many humble pardons," she said softly. "I know that the road is often dusty and long." She wished her command of Eastron was better and hoped she had not made things worse.

He waved a dismissive hand, leaning back towards the warmth of the fire. “Perhaps it was my understanding of your words. It is just that so many of the Westerners,” he paused to rub the side of his nose, “it is like they never wash. In the East bathing is important. You want to smell like some piece of ritsay there you get a lot of hard words. Who wants to smell like some sa kai camel? Even the Haradrim, they understand and they have less water than us and the West all together. Here there is water everywhere and most people smell worse than a dung heap.”

She listened intently, but as he became more animated he began to speak too fast for her to catch more than a few words in each sentence. But she clearly understood the terms for bathing and dung heap and couldn't suppress a soft snort of laughter. It was very true, in some of the poorer villages of men, even with fully funtioning wells most people shunned bathing. Unlike the Hobbits or the Elves, who were somewhat more fastidious in their habits.

She was relieved that he was at least aware that they each could easily misunderstand the other, partly due to language barriers and partly due to cultural differences. She leaned back in her chair and raised her tankard. May the fleas of the sa kai camel never find a home in your bed," she said with a broad grin. Htiet laughed, then drank with her.

She looked around to see if she could spot Radesh, but she could not yet see him in the slowly filling common room. She turned back to Htiet. "When the hillman joins us, we will eat and discuss terms. Until then, there is the warm fire and cold ale."

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sun Aug 14, 2005 5:08 pm

Khiran stepped from the rocky ledge he had sheltered in. All around him was alive with sounds, everything from the chirping of birds to the gentle drips of rain that fell to the forest floor. He felt drawn further into them, further east, yet these woods also held a hint of danger for one such as himself. He knew he could not travel further into these... these... 'enchanted' woods.

A sharp cry caused him to spin around, finding the hawk sitting on a branch of a nearby tree. It looked at him solemnly as if to confirm his feeling that he could not go further east. Not yet, anyway. With a shrug at last he headed west, looking for a place that offered a hint of dryness or at least a creek to wash in and hang his clothes a bit. Breakfast was once again lost.

It had not taken him long to find the place he sought, shrugging out of his soaking garments and half-freezing in the creek as he washed. The small clearing offered at least a hint of sunlight to warm it and he hung his clothes on the trees facing the sun, watching them drip, drip, drip.

It was a mostly peaceful morning, a few birds chittering away from the trees across the clearing. Anyone who could understand the chirping of birds would have known they were in fact making some very nasty remarks to a passing fox who, for the most, part ignored the feathered nuisances and went in search of eggs in easier to pilfer nests.

Khiran did not understand the chirping of birds so the entire moment was lost on him. Instead, he struggled back into his still-damp clothes, his pants clinging uncomfortably to his legs and he shivered as a chill breeze wafted through the trees. He cursed as he found a hole where his boot leather was beginning to pull away from the sole but now he trudged on.

Soon he had come out of the thickest trees and found a road, well-traveled judging by its size and state. He looked down both directions but his eyes were drawn up to the hawk which continued west along the ribbon of road twisting through the forest. He trudged on.

Afternoon came though the warmth of the afternoon sun was not to come with it. The clouds which had seemed to be thinning that morning now gathered again, their pale white turning to deep grey. Khiran scowled up at them. His stomach grumbled and as he lowered his eyes he saw a break in the trees ahead. His curiosity caused him to up his pace until he stood facing a long field of grass leading to a fence around a garden.

Eying the farmhouse for any sign of the owner, he crept through the tall grasses, intent on getting something out of that garden. After all, it seemed large enough, and he hadn't eaten in days! Flattening himself to the ground, he crawled under the boards to the fence, mud caking his front. He didn't care; food was a mere hand's breath away.

Of course he recognized almost none of the plants being vastly diffrent from those of Harad.. Pulling at the greens of one, the whole root came out of the ground and into his hand. He took a bite of the green top. It was bitter but it was food though he nearly choked trying to get it down fast enough.

Eating several more of those and leaving the roots on the ground, he moved on to another plant. This one proved a great deal more palatable, the small, red fruits juicy and full of flavor. Another had mildly hot peppers and he popped several in his mouth, throwing a few more in his bag for later. It was the first real spice he had managed to get since leaving Harad and while it was mild it was better than none at all.

Another plant was tasted but quickly spit out. Khiran determined that must not be for eating as it tasted so horrid that no one could possibly stomach it. Grabbing a few more larger vegetables, one of which he was grateful to recognize as onion, and having to maneuver the spines on some long, green produce he struggled back under the fence and made the road, grateful that he was not caught in the garden.

Later when the farmer returned from the market, he would find many mysteries about the visitor in his yard. Human by the tracks, yet who would pull a carrot only to discard the carrot and take the greens? The tomato, pepper and cucumber plants were obviously pilfered along with several others, though the poor farmer could not fathom who would want to obviously pick at yet discard his peas!

Khiran continued now at a much more leisurely pace, not so dissatisfied with the day now. He chewed the last of an onion as he wandered along, watching the hawk with a contented smile.
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Postby Frelga » Tue Aug 16, 2005 12:45 am

By the time the market closed, Radesh felt as if he'd gone through a minor skirmish. His sword arm was heavy from shoulder to fingertips. As he had expected, a few of the wine-addled locals insisted on challenging him, but Radesh managed to stop them from hurting themselves. He took leave of the sword seller in time to pick out a few supplies for himself - a plain swordbelt, arrows and warm boots, then headed for the inn.

Scribe was easy to spot, with her cloud of pearly hair gleaming against firelight. Radesh was about to raise his hand in greeting when he saw the man next to her.

It had been two years since a shashko was his constant companion. Strange, then, how a mere glimpse of the Easterling's face sent his hand to the hilt. The hillman's step took on the purposeful softness of a wolf intent on his kill.

The couple that ran the Forsaken Inn was tough and wily enough to keep their unruly clientele in check. Now the innkeeper's wife caught the sight of Radesh through the kitchen doors, and headed for him at full run.

"Master Hunter!" the leathery woman rasped, grabbing the hillman's arm. She gave a pleased little "Oof" at the swell of hard biceps under her hands. Despite herself, her voice dropped to a wheedling purr. "Master Hunter, I do so need to talk to you. Come to the bar now and have a drop of ale, on the house of course."

Radesh saw nothing but the Easterling as if through a rent in black fog that obscured everything else. Any man who had tried to stand in his way would've paid dearly. But Radesh had never raised his hand to a woman, and his training held now. He tried to shake the innkeeper's wife off his arm, gently, but she dug in every finger and Radesh had no choice except to follow.

"Now, is that any way to treat your friends? What do you mean by takin' your venison to that evil-eyed Ram in the marketplace?" she demanded, as her husband pushed a mug into Radesh's hand. He didn't want ale, but he was thirsty and ale was the only safe thing to drink in that place. "You bring it here next time and I'll give you a proper good price, d'you hear, Master Hunter? And I would be ever so grateful if you…" She went on, something about ducks and the hungry travelers.

Radesh took a long swallow of ale, and set the mug down. I was about to kill that Easterling, he thought. The hillman shivered, as if a wind off a glacier ran through the common room. He knew nothing about this man, huddling so close to the fire, looking so out of place here where even Radesh managed to blend in. But he was about to kill him.

He hated them all. Not the clean, bright hate, the reverse side of love, that drove him into battle. It was a mean feeling, this need to hurt back for the pain that was caused him. He would not be ruled by it. He would not let himself to become like one of them.

"Say, Hunter, are you listening?"

"Yes, yes, Mistress. If I have any more meat to sell, I will bring it to you and you will give me a proper good price. And now I must go and talk to someone else."

Radesh picked up his ale and headed toward the fireplace. The mug would keep his hand busy so it won't reach for the sword hilt.

"Good evening to you, Scribe," he said.
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Postby The_Fool » Wed Aug 17, 2005 2:50 am

“When the hillman joins us, we will eat and discuss terms. Until then, there is the warm fire and cold ale.”

Htiet nodded, grinning still over the Scribe’s comment. He was pleased to find that she was in agreement with him, at least enough to jest over it, and was not offended by his current distaste for Western sanitation. She seemed more in keeping with the few who made use of regular baths and as such she undoubtedly felt at least a little sympathy towards his plight.

The ale was a good brew, strong in flavour. It was one thing Htiet had noted the Westerners excelled at. In Rhûn the ale tended to lack in taste intensity and the Easterling was fast becoming used to the more complex nuances of the Western drink. Rhûn specialised in hard liquors, the kind that lit a fire in your gut and had you drunk as a fiend in moments if you hadn’t the stomach for it. Huddled close to the fire, tankard clasped in his hands Htiet gave a warm though pensive smile as he recalled some of the nights out drinking with the other soldiers on their evenings off. That was before he had become Bhenan’s man. Before he had been isolated from his friends and been kept close to his charge until death came calling.

The serving maid from before was off in a corner, dealing with newcomers but she still had time to flash a wink and a smile in Htiet’s direction as she went past. The Easterling couldn’t help his rough grin as his eyes trailed after her. She was a stupid woman, flirting too much. She wasn’t as beautiful as the dark skinned women of Rhûn and Harad, with eyes so dark you could lose yourself in them; lashes fluttering, doe-like eyes emphasised with kohl. Perfumed hair like polished onyx, slender wrists turning sensuously. But it had been a while since Htiet had had a woman, and he supposed he could be persuaded to take a moment with her if she wanted to do some convincing.

It was the Scribe who pulled him out of his musings with a wry smile. “What happened to the ‘nosy little tsayka’, Htiet?”

Htiet gave a lop-sided smirk and leant back in his chair, eyes moving back to hers. “She stopped talking. Kept on the other side of the room,” he replied.

Scribe snorted and grinned, a smile that held in it the flickering reminder of her deadly abilities. “A temporary arrangement for her I think.”

“Necessary,” Htiet grinned then took a lengthy draught from his tankard.

For a while they sat in comfortable silence, Htiet pressed as close to the hearth as he could, enjoying the warmth of the flames as the heat penetrated his bones. From his current position he was the one facing the door whilst Scribe sat opposite. It was because of this seating arrangement that he saw the shashko fighter before his employer. He had jerked his chin in the man’s direction, notifying Scribe of the hillman’s presence when he locked eyes with him.

In that moment Radesh’s hand was on the hilt of his weapon as he began a rapid pace towards him, the absolute hate in his eyes flaring like an oil lamp broken. Htiet was half way to his feet with scimitar drawn in seconds; enough to show a good three inches of steel kept shining clean and free of rust with camellia oil. “Ritsay!” he hissed, jaw tight. His entire frame was tense and ready, perfectly cast for a fight.

Scribe had turned to take in the scene with her exotic violet eyes. Across the room the innkeeper’s wife had managed to apprehend the hillman ushering him off to the bar for a drink in an attempt to redirect his fury and save her furniture. Htiet loosened, sheathing his scimitar with a soft hiss before sitting back down.

“Kai,” he growled, almond shaped eyes fixed on the shashko fighter as he collected his tankard and took a quick swig. “Harak-damned bo’risebrayn. Race-blind snake.”

“Hmmm,” was all the Scribe offered. She was obviously keeping her own surmises and opinions to herself. Which was fine with Htiet. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what she made of the fighter’s display. He knew all he wanted to know. The piss-poor vagabond hated him because he was an Easterling. Well, it wasn’t like it was anything Htiet hadn’t had to deal with before.

Setting his expression into one of cold warning he watched as the hillman left the bar to make his way over to them. He would say nothing unless provoked. Provoked; he’d make damn sure the hillman didn’t try to do it again.
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Postby SilverScribe » Wed Aug 17, 2005 9:52 pm

She caught the slight movement of Htiet's head just after hearing the main door swing shut. 'Ah, that would be the hillman,' she thought, then went still as stone as Htiet half rose from his seat with a curse and a warning flash of steel. Every muscle coiled tight as a spring, she watched the Easterling's face and eyes closely, even as her sharp hearing caught the timely exchange between the Innkeeper's wife and the hillman.

Htiet sank back to his chair, slowly easing the scimitar back into its sheath. Scribbles remained taut and alert, judging by the past few seconds, there was no telling what would happen when the two men got within spitting distance of each other.

She could follow the hillman's progress through the room by watching Htiet's face. Was the man aware how much of his thoughts were displayed on his face? She did not even need to hear his low muttered curse, “Harak-damned bo’risebrayn. Race-blind snake,” to know exactly how he felt. She wondered what on earth had provoked the Easterling, who, up until now had been surprisingly easy going and almost friendly.

She turned her head and looked up as Radesh greeted her. "Mae govannen, Radesh. Please, bring a chair and join us." She nodded at an empty chair at a nearby table and turned to look straight at Htiet as Radesh left his tankard then turned and walked the half dozen paces away to pick up the chair.

"Blindness affects all races," she hissed at him quickly, "even those of the East. Do not draw steel in this place." The warning in her tone was clear, Htiet's eyes flashed but he did not argue with her. When Radesh returned and sat down, she noted the same tenseness and distaste in the hillman's eyes. She did not like this kind of beginning, it would make her task and the chance of reaching her goal all that much harder. 'Best to take these two bulls by the horns sooner than later,' she thought wryly, then cleared her throat.

"Do you know each other?" she asked, looking directly at Htiet.

The Easterling stared coldly at Radesh for a few long moments, then turned back to Scribbles. "No," he answered, the word coming out short and clipped. She turned to Radesh and raised one eyebrow. The hillman's expression was cool, wary. He merely shook his head to indicate no as well.

"Then I will assume you have no personal grudges to settle with one another," she stated flatly, looking first at one man, then the other. "I will pay you to fight, but NOT each other, understood?"

“Perhaps no personal grudges,” Htiet remarked roughly in Eastron. “But he has a grudge against my kind nonetheless. I won’t fight him, but I will defend myself if he gets pissy.”

"What is he saying?" Radesh asked coldly.

"That if you get pissy, he will defend himself," Scribbles answered. She didn't bother with the rest, without directly questioning Radesh, it was at this point, merely Htiet's opinion that the hillman bore a grudge based merely on race. She was less concerned with the possible prejudices of these men than she was with the task she now faced, there was no chance that she could tackle the dark elf mage in his stronghold single handed. She needed men to back her up, men who knew which end of a sword meant business, and who would not back down from a concerted fight. But a house divided will fall, she could not afford division in whatever group of fighters she ended up taking into the Misty Mountains.

Radesh's jaw set and his eyes went hard. Scribbles raised a hand briefly to stall the hillman, then leaned forward, resting both elbows on the table.

"Pissing is for dogs," she stated bluntly. "If you wish to have a pissing contest, then do it on your own time, or I will have no use for either of you." She let that sink in then continued.

"But if you wish to be men and earn a fair coin, then here are the terms. I need a few skilled, reliable fighters to help me, erm . . . let's say settle an old score with a very old enemy, whose stronghold is in the Misty Mountains just south of the mines of Moria. My first stop however, will be the Lucky Fortune Inn, where, I will advance the first half of your payment in coin. When the job is complete, I will pay out the rest in whatever currency is preferred, gold, silver, precious stones, it matters little to me. But this job will require you to be focused on the upcoming battle, for a battle it will surely be. Only if we operate as a well disciplined team will we have any hope of success."

She looked from one to the other. "What say you?"

.
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Postby The_Fool » Thu Aug 18, 2005 2:09 am

Htiet had been watching the shashko fighter warily since he had sat down. The set of his jaw, the cold light in his eyes, all of it fairly shouted his displeasure at having taken a seat at the same table as a man of the East.

Scribe was speaking; her words a sharp reprimand that threw him back to days in the training ground, commanders shouting their displeasure. It was exactly the sort of scolding he responded to and as such he settled back in his chair though his right hand rested close to the hilt of his blade. With an audible sniff Htiet picked up his tankard as his employer finished and took a slow drink, waiting to see if the hillman would answer first. Radesh stayed silent, his eyes still hard and cold on Htiet.

Bo’risebrayn. Staring at him like he was some sort of filth you only saw in the middle of a dung heap. A poisoned serpent. A jackal. A spider. Htiet felt affronted. The tankard tapped the table top with a soft thud and carefully the Easterling folded one hand around it before speaking. He used Westron first, to let the shashko fighter know where he stood, then lapsed back into Eastron. Half of the reason was because he felt comfortable knowing that Radesh couldn’t understand and the other half was simply because the chance to speak his own tongue again after so long was elating.

“You know I am your man now,” Htiet remarked. “I am not going. I have already accepted money from you Scribe. The deal is set. I will not back out now just because some tsar thinks he has davut so big he can kill the entire East. But I will smile nicely for him as long as he promises to keep his blade to himself.”

“Speak Westron,” Radesh growled suddenly.

The corners of Htiet’s mouth twitched and he exhaled sharply out of his nose. “I try, Westerner, but I have been here for not too long. She knows what I say in my tongue. It is … ” He paused searching for the word. “Good, best, for me. No misunderstandings.

“What did he say?” Radesh asked, eyes flicking to the Scribe.

“He said that that way there are no misunderstandings,” she translated flatly. “He has also accepted my terms on the proviso that you keep your shashko away from his skin.”

Htiet leant back, closer to the fire, and gave a flickering smile. It amused him to know that Scribe had left out his crude reference to the hillman’s proud aggression towards his people. No doubt it was for the best too. His hold on the hilt of his scimitar loosened, though part of him was still ready for a scrap. It never paid to let your guard down completely.

“So, Radesh,” the Scribe said with a cool command, “what will your answer be? Can you fight alongside an Easterling? Or can you not?”
Last edited by The_Fool on Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Frelga » Thu Aug 18, 2005 11:42 am

Radesh pushed his chair back from the blazing fireplace and tugged loose the string at the shirt collar. The Easterling, he noted, could not get close enough to the heat. They were always cold, he remembered, even on summer nights up in the mountains. Their sentries crouched by the fires, until they learned just how long the killing range of a hill-made bow was. After that they bundled up in furs, if they could get them, and shivered in the darkness, deaf to the steps of a hunter.

He pressed both hands around the mug, to keep them still. It was a mistake, sitting down at the table next to this… this Easterling. Too many memories came back, and each whispered “kill him.” And then he heard it, the speech that haunted his nightmares for two years.

"That if you get pissy, he will defend himself," Scribe translated. "Pissing is for dogs," she stated bluntly. "If you wish to have a pissing contest, then do it on your own time, or I will have no use for either of you."

Bewildered, Radesh stared at the swordswoman. Why was she was telling them not to take a piss inside the inn? Surely not even the lowlanders would do such a thing. He expected that she would admonish him not to start a fight, but…

Oh.

In spite of himself, Radesh barely suppressed a grin. Scribe had a curious way with words. The rest of her speech was at least straightforward, although she didn’t tell them much. But – a score, she said. So it was her fate at work, not his. Did he want any part of that?

The Easterling, at least, was already committed. He was tense, ready for a fight, and angry too. That pleased Radesh. The hillman hadn’t said a word to the man and already he was angry and defensive, expecting an attack. And he might just get what he expected if he didn’t stick to Westron.

“So, Radesh,” the Scribe said with a cool command, “what will your answer be? Can you fight alongside an Easterling? Or can you not?”

Radesh noted the effect Scribe’s tone had on the Easterling. Used to taking orders, he thought. A soldier. One of those men whose only job was to fight and plunder. Such men burned the crops and cut down orchards, and had no inkling of the sweat that went into raising something they destroyed so lightly. Give them orders, and they would do anything. Only, in the mountains, orders came from officers who didn’t know which way was uphill. The hunters needed no orders.

Could he stand it? To hear that speech that seemed to come from a snake with a sore throat. To see that face, that seemed so much like the ones he remembered. Against his will, Radesh’s hand went to his cheek, and his fingers brushed the scar. He forced his hand down and wrapped it around the mug again.

“I don’t know,” Radesh admitted at last. “I will not attack him while he is with you.” For the first time, he met the almond-shaped eyes of the other man. “But do not call me a tsar again, rakyi.”

Ritsay!” the Easterling muttered. “You speak my language?”

“Enough to know when you insult me behind my back,” Radesh replied, and his mouth twisted in a grim smile at the Easterling’s astonishment. “You have something to say, say it to my face.”

Scribe watched them both, a cool, measuring gaze.

“Scribe,” Radesh said, “tell me about this score of yours. It seems you want my help to kill someone. I must know why, if I’m to go.”
--------------
tsar = barbarian
rakyi = soldier

Thanks to Elengil for providing the Eastron translations.
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Postby Jiyadan » Thu Aug 18, 2005 8:44 pm

As he stared at the water beneath the bridge where the rain could not reach, he noticed his reflection. Though wavy, it was good enough for him to discern the unsightly stubble and scruff. He had felt it, of course, but seeing it was just too much. Pulling out his dagger, he wet his head and began to carefully scrape away the hair on his head and face.

He had no soap which made the process slow and rather painful at times. He also had a very unsuitable 'mirror' but at last he was clean and smooth again, if slightly bloody, and only a thin line of hair around his mouth and chin remained.

When he had finished admiring himself in the water, his eyes were drawn to movement. Khiran stared at the fish with a kind of ironic bitterness. Oh how easy it would be for him to pluck one from the water. He could have it gutted and spread on a roasting stake in under a quarter of an hour. It would be useless to bother, however, seeing as he had no bloody fire over which to cook it! He said as much too, cursing it loudly at the skies which steadily soaked everything around him, the bridge the only thing keeping him from getting any wetter now.

He at least had the luck that the bridge allowed him to get out of the direct rain, though it offered no other comfort. He could only watch the fish and feel his stomach grumble. He could only dream of a fire while sitting in his clothes that were soaked through and already inadequate in this cold climate. The vegetables he had acquired from the obliging garden had been finished yesterday but the town he passed just before reaching the bridge had little to offer for those with little to pay.

But then he had reached the bridge. Yes, thee bridge! The bridge from his dreams. He at first thought he had been dreaming when he saw it, but there it stood in solid stone and wood, real as he was himself. He even pinched himself to prove it. At first he had simply stared, dumbstruck. Then he had cursed and hollered and cried out every kind of profanity that he could think of and even made a few up on the spot to express his feelings over finding the bridge in the middle of this god-forsaken place that rained on him and froze his bones.

What was worse, he didn't even know what he was supposed to do when he got here! He had assumed there would be a sign of some sort. Anything to give him an indication of what in sa kai's name he was doing here. But the bridge merely stood solemn and unmoving. At last he had crawled underneath it. At least that was dry. Eventually he had shaved himself and settled in to wait. For what, he did not know.

Sleep had taken him at some point and when he woke he was unsure if it was the next day or still the same. The clouds made everything look dark and he could not even tell where the sun was. Even if he had, he couldn't tell which direction anything was either.

The sky was that sort of grey that is produced from a steady rain for four days. A smidge of blue shone off towards the west somewhere, but overhead was a thick grey blanket of clouds hanging in anticipation of another downpour.

It was directly below these clouds that Khiran sat, under the Last Bridge of the East-West Road (though of course, he didn't know the name), and stared up at those clouds. It was on him that they had been raining for the last four days, and he was keeping a very wary eye on them now, not at all trusting that the rain had really stopped.

Four days ago it had pretended to stop. He had woken that morning to at least dry skies if not clear; but it had all been a ruse. That night the rain had resumed and seemed to even make up for the day it had taken off. Now it seemed to have stopped again.

"A sign.. a sign. Some sign, any sign," he mumbled. "Oh look, that blasted eagle is gone. It must be a sign. Why, look, that hole in my boot has grown - It must be a sign." Each word was more grating, laced with twisted humour at his situation. Struggling out from under the bridge, he took another look around. Nothing seemed any different than it had yesterday.

"Oh LOOK!" he cried to no one. "It's a BIRDIE. It must be a SIGN. OH LOOK! IT'S NOT RAINING IT.. MUST.... BEEEE.... AAAAAA...... SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGN!" He bellowed it at the sky, each word growing louder and drawn out for longer until his voice was strained to its limit, the final word coming out as a raging scream, his mouth frothed slightly at the edges.

He felt a drop on his head. Then another. Soon the rain had begun soaking him again. At first he had stood in complete denial of this, but then when he could no longer he had flew into a rage, so angry that his words came out as only half-formed curses. He pulled the boot with the hole off and threw it at the sky.

Then he ripped his shirt open, baring his chest to the clouds. "WHY DON'T YOU JUST STRIKE ME DEAD," he raged, pounding his chest with his fist. "JUST KILL ME, COME ON! KILL ME!" He closed his eyes, threw his arms wide and waited for the lightning to end his misery.

It didn't. After a few minutes, he started to feel rather foolish and pulled his shirt closed again. Looking around as if to make sure no one had seen him, he scrambled up the bank to stand on the road, looking both directions as far as he could before the bend or the trees took it from sight. With a sigh, he sat on the wide stone sides of the bridge. He couldn't get any wetter anyway, he might as well sit out in the rain.

He vowed to kill that old man when he got back home.
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Postby SilverScribe » Thu Aug 18, 2005 8:55 pm

She watched the interplay between the two men with increasing interest and also increasing concern. The last thing she wanted was a private war on her hands. But she understood the sentiments if they were based on bad experiences with a particular race, she harboured her own deep hatred of all things that even hinted of Númenore. She knew the entire race was not to blame, but centuries of resentment and loathing had made her bitter. She saw much the same loathing in the eyes of the two men opposite each other at the table.

She filed away Radesh's confession to knowing some Eastron. It would be prudent to use Westron as much as possible, but she was also not about to throw away the opportunity to learn more Eastron from Htiet. However, that thought could wait.

Radesh had addressed her, asked a direct question. “Scribe, tell me about this score of yours. It seems you want my help to kill someone. I must know why, if I’m to go.”

She did not answer right away. The why was not really anyone's business but her own. What would she tell them? She was not about to tell two complete strangers her reasons for wanting Delkarnoth dead. Not only were the reasons complex and hoplelessly tangled up in her past, they were also the cause of deep personal shame. She took a deep draught of her ale, then leaned forward in her chair, her shoulders hunched and her hands, like Radesh's, wrapped firmly around her ale flagon. She looked down into the foamy depths, organizing her thoughts.

"I need help, yes, but not to kill my target, at least not directly," she finally answered. Looking up, she leaned back and looked at both men, her face impassive, betraying nothing of the rage and bitter resentment the thought of the dark elf mage stirred in her.

"Target?" Htiet echoed with a frown. "What do you mean, target?"

"My enemy," she replied. "His name is Delkarnoth, he is a Noldorian elf, older than you can imagine and more dangerous than you can even begin to understand. I need a few skilled men, a small, elite and deadly force to slip into my enemy's stronghold with me. Once inside, I will find and confront the elf. It will be your job to engage and destroy his familiars, a fair army of mindless but vicious creatures that are slaves to his will."

"Sorcery!" Htiet hissed, and leaned away, edging still closer to the fire. Radesh shot him a cold glance.

"Aye, Htiet, sorcery," she agreed and translated for Radesh in the same statement. "Delkarnoth is a skilled mage, well trained in the dark arts of Sauron's craft."

"So, you want to kill him because he yet serves the Shadow?" Radesh asked, before taking another swallow from his own flagon. "An honourable enough goal, I suppose, but why should it be your task?"

"Because it is personal," she answered. "He has stolen several . . . precious things . . . from me, and I believe that his death will restore them."

"What precious things?" Htiet asked bluntly. "A jewel of great value? A weapon of great power?"

She pressed her lips together briefly. "I cannot . . . I mean, the things themselves are important to no one but myself. It is, as I said, a very personal matter." Htiet lowered his eyes briefly and she acknowledged his silent apology with a slight nod of her head.

"You seek revenge," said Radesh softly, his expression dark and brooding.

"Vengeance," added Htiet, then spread one hand as Radesh shot him another angry glance. "I do not have the word in your tongue," he said.

Scribbles translated the word for Radesh, then shook her head as her gaze went down to trail along the edge of her ale flagon. "It is both and it is neither," she said quietly. "It is . . . " she switched to Eastron, "Hrak yatsir,"** then repeated the words in Westron for Radesh.

She looked up, wondering if the term would mean anything to them, if it would either draw them to an irresistable challenge, or drive them away from the type of journey that gave most sane men nightmares.

"Is that reason enough for you, Master Hunter?" she asked Radesh softly, using the term the Innkeepers wife had called him.


** "a Blood Hunt"

(ooc: thanks elengil!)

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