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)!

Postby SilverScribe » Wed Nov 16, 2005 10:29 pm

Four hours later she came out of the mists, feeling rested even though her thoughts had been disquieting. Scribbles rose and refolded the spare blankets and replaced them where she'd found them, then glanced at the still dark window. She estimated it was still at least three hours to dawn, that would give her plenty of time, not to mention privacy.

***

An little over an hour later she was back in the little room, feeling even better after a nice long soak in one of the Lucky Fortune's bathing rooms. She hung the few shirts she had washed in the bath over various crates and casks to dry, combed her fingers through her still wet hair until most of the worst snarls were out, then rummaged in her pack for her wide toothed tortoise shell comb.

When she was done, she stood at the window and stared out at the darkness, thinking. What if the Corsair turned out to be a skilled fighter? Could she afford to pass up the help? But what of the language barrier? For casual travelling it was little more than an annoyance, but in battle, it would be serious hindrance. Would the Corsair learn enough Westron before they made the final approach to Delkarnoth's citadel? Then again, what if he was clearly not skilled enough for her purposes? Where would she find more men, Imladris? Or would the twins simply toss her out on her ear before letting her approach any of their people? She sighed, it seemed there were no easy answers to far too many questions.

After a few more moments, she put the puzzles aside. Nothing would be clear until the Corsair's mettle was tested, later this day. She grinned to herself when she thought of just how miserable Khiran would be in a few more hours. Even Htiet would probably feel thick headed for an hour or so after waking, Harlindon Clearwater was known for its lethal after effects almost as much as its strength. Radesh had been wisest of them all, it seemed.

The moon had set, so she lit the candle once more and examined the Bisen-to. The blade was firmly fixed but she knew it was a temporary fit at best. Ideally, she should have had a forge or at least a good hot fire to heat the fitting below the blade, then mount it onto a dry, well seasoned length of wood and finish it with a plunge into cold water. The metal would shrink onto the wood as it cooled and form an unbreakable fit. But the current setup would last a few weeks, more than enough time for the Corsair to find a true weapons smith to mount the blade properly.

She spent the next hour going through her pack and making a mental list of the few things she'd need to replenish, fresh herbs for both medicinal and cooking purposes, along with salt, for pretty much the same reasons. She also needed to replace her flint and steel.

When she had repacked everything except the few shirts she had washed, the eastern sky was just beginning to show paler than the surrounding sky. She left her pack where it was but took the Bisen-to and went down to the Inn's common room.

It was still quiet, the room empty, but she could smell bread baking and hear the bustle of the staff in the kitchens as they prepared for the coming day. She went to the large hearth in the common room and propping the Bisen-to against the side of the fireplace, took up a poker and stirred the coals, then fed small pieces of wood, blowing on the coalbed to start the flames once more. By the time she had a good fire going, the woman from the night before had bustled into the room.

"Oh, thank ye Scribe, saves me the trouble," she said with a smile. "Will ye be wantin' breakfast?"

"Aye, for myself and the three men from last night," she answered. "But until they get here, I'll start with an ale and a bit of dark bread if you have it," she added.

The barmaid rolled her eyes. "Ale! For breakfast! Now I've heard it all . . ." she laughed as she left to fill the order.

Scribbles sat at the same table they had used the night before and stared into the flames. When the woman brought the ale and bread, she thanked her and sipped slowly at the dark, rich brew, wondering what the day would bring, and how far into the mountains they would be by this time tomorrow . . .

.
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Postby Frelga » Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:41 am

Radesh swatted a straw away from his face. He opened his eyes with a wide yawn and shrugged out of his blankets. He always slept best in the stables, soothed by the sounds of horses who rested in safety near him, and now he felt refreshed. Kneeling in the hay, Radesh put on his swordbelt. He crumpled the two blankets into a bundle next to his pack, to be collected later, and slid down the ladder.

The sky was black except for the faint glow in the east, as if the morning overslept and only managed to crack its grey eye open. Radesh saw the smoke rise from the kitchen chimney but the common room was still dark. The hillman shivered and rubbed his shoulders in the chilly breeze as he looked at the shuttered windows. Scribe would be up and ready, but the breakfast would not, and the rakyi was likely sleeping off yesterday's liquor. He had time.

The gates were still locked for the night. Rather than to disturb someone about the key, Radesh grabbed the top of the gates, used the bar as a step, swung over and landed on the path with a quiet thump. The soft boots he bought at the market by Forsaken Inn made no sound as the hillman ran up the same path he took last night.

In a small clearing over the stream, Radesh drew the shashko and took a moment to check his stance. Back straight like an arrow, knees bowed slightly, feet planted firmly yet ready to launch him in any direction. He closed his eyes and listened to the drumbeat in his memory. All that night, the sword dance ran through his dreams, as if his mind practiced while his body rested. Now he took a breath and let it out slowly, and then he let the dance claim him.

Radesh stopped after a short time so as not to keep Scribe waiting, but he was pleased. Already he could feel the old skill coming back, the speed and the strength. And something else came back, some piece of his soul that unbent with a snap like a snow-laden branch that shakes off its load. Radesh sheathed his sword and dragged his sleeve across his brow to keep the sweat out of his eyes. He followed the trail down to the stream and bent down to splash his face, gasping as the icy water seared his skin. Then he set off back to the Inn, running up and down the hill with a long, light stride.

The common room was bright with the fire-glow, though it didn't yet have time to get warm. Scribe sat in her old spot by the fire, wrapped in her thoughts. Radesh greeted her softly, not wishing to distract, and settled down next to her, across from the fireplace.

"Breakfast will arrive shortly. Have some bread to get started," she told him, waving at the plate of dark bread before her. "Or would you care for some ale?"

Radesh grinned and shook his head as he broke off half a slice. His eyes lingered at the Khiran's weapon, propped against the fireplace. "A dangerous thing, that, and hard to fight against. I'd like to see how the Corsair handles it," he commented. "Although if he can wield a spoon before noon it would be quite a feat," he finished with a smile.

"Can you manage a weapon like that?" Scribe asked.

"I could, but not by choice. My hand would be a hindrance," he replied simply, lifting his left, three-fingered hand.

Radesh broke off another piece of bread and looked around for the serving girl to ask for some water. He couldn't say why, but his heart was lighter that morning and he felt strength pulse through his body with every move. The usual frown vanished from his brow, leaving a sharp vertical line behind, and his full lips relaxed into a soft smile. He stretched his long legs toward the fire and sat back, waiting for food to arrive.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun Dec 18, 2005 6:19 pm

Htiet’s dreams were dark.

In the midst of a city night he followed steps already set out for him. Faces came and went in the crowd, familiar people he didn’t know. He was a ghost in his own country. As he passed an archway a woman crooked a finger at him, beckoning him to follow as she pulled a gauzy veil of a red so deep it was almost black tighter about her heart-shaped face. Slanted eyes lined in gold. She reminded him of a cat and even as he thought this she shimmered and for the briefest of moments he thought he saw the flicker of feline ears upon her head, the gleam of long whiskers.

‘Come,’ she said without saying a word. And he did.

She moved like one of the predators of the dense jungles. It did not surprise Htiet to see she wore no shoes. He kept his eyes upon her, but if he had looked down he would have seen that his soldier’s boots scuffed over paw prints not footprints in the dust.

‘You are alone.’ She spoke in his tongue, her words floating back to him.

“I am alone,” he replied.

‘Hunters are always alone.’ She turned her head to look at him, and the light from a dream doorway caught her slanted eyes and for a moment they glowed. Night hunter. Nocturnal vision. She smiled and Htiet thought he saw white pointed teeth. ‘You must hunt. You must be strong. You are one of my children.’

“Who are you?” Htiet pressed, stepping forward, reaching out to take her slender brown arm. His fingers brushed her skin but he felt fur.

‘You must be patient. Watch and learn. Hunting is about watching. Always watching.’ Those slanted eyes widened, the pupils dark and enticing. ‘You are forgetting you are on your path.’

“Path?” Htiet felt himself grow angry, frustrated. “My path has been ripped from me. Here there is nothing for me. I am selling my services as a soldier for money. There is no honour. I need to go home. I need to taste the East on my tongue. I have lost my way and what I need are directions on how to get back.”

The woman blinked and a small cat-like tongue wet her lips. Again he saw the gleam of whiskers. ‘Once,’ she said, ‘once there was a stranger who stopped in front of an old house to ask how to get to so-and-so’s house. There was an old man sitting outside and the stranger asked this old man how to get to the house he was going to.

‘The old man said, “Well, you go down this road until you get to Atkan’s land, and then you turn left. Then,” he said, “you’re going to go until where that big bamboo stand was torn down by the big storm that was like the hand of a God.” He said, “And then, you turn right,” he said, “and it will be just across the road from where the sun rose on Kormir’s body when he was killed in a duel many years ago.”

‘ “Well,” the stranger said, “wait a moment.” He said, “If I knew where all those places were, I wouldn’t need directions.”

‘The old man looked at him and then he said, “If you need directions, maybe you’ve got no business going there at all.” ’


And then the woman was gone. The entire dream closed in on itself, collapsing like sand in an hourglass.

Htiet jolted awake, his entire body rigid for seconds, dark, almond-shaped eyes wide with surprise. A little morning sunlight filtered in through the window, casting a bar of liquid gold across the face of the Corsair. The man’s face was screwed up tight and he was whimpering slightly, as if the sun’s rays burnt him. A painful throbbing in the back of his head reminded him of the drink from last night. He rubbed his forehead briskly with a callused hand as if such an action would wipe the feeling from his skull.

“Kai,” he growled. “Ko komat, you must feel like you’ve been executed by an oliphaunt.”
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Postby SilverScribe » Sun Dec 18, 2005 10:58 pm

"I could, but not by choice. My hand would be a hindrance."

She nodded, he had answered truthfully, without shame or hesitation, merely a statement of fact. Her eyes strayed to the Bisen-to as well, and memory flooded back . . .

"Not like a stave! This is not a quarterstaff, one end is sharp! You must protect your hands, now again . . . " The usually quiet voice of the Elven weapons master was sharp, the tone one of command, one that said disobedience was not an option. She gripped the hard ash pole of the elven halbard tighter and gritted her teeth, dropping once more into the ready stance.

The weapons master had sighed, then launched into a long treatise of why she must not grip the weapon as though she was drowning and it was the only piece of flotsam in the middle of the ocean. How the grip was to be loose, relaxed, only tight enough to guide the weapon but yet allow the hands to move along the length of the ash pole as needed, changing the balance and direction of the weapon on the fly, making it a fluid thing, not a fixed and dead thing . . . She heard the quiet laughter of the elven warriors that stood watching, watching as the half blood failed with an elven weapon that they wielded with effortless skill . . .

Their laughter had died quickly enough later, when she finally mastered the halberd. And when it was time to train with the sword . . . soon, none would spar with her . . . even the elven weapons master was shocked the first, last and only time he took the challenge himself, and she disarmed him before he had managed a bare dozen strokes . . . he was gone the next time she found herself in Imladris . . .


She shook herself out of the past when the barmaid appeared and Radesh quietly asked her for water. She nodded and smiled at the hillman pleasantly as she placed several clean, wooden trenchers on the table, then moved off, returning shortly to leave a pitcher of freshly drawn water and a several clean flagons on the table. "Th' milkmaids just strainin' the milk now and there'll be soft boiled eggs, ham an' sweet fruit bread soon enough," she said over her shoulder as she left a second time.

Scribbles' stomach growled at the thought of warm, soft boiled eggs and the Fortune's sweet, honey cured ham. Soon enough, it would be either cold trail bread or oat porridge for the mornings, she was going to savour every meal at the Lucky Fortune before they had to set out.

Radesh too, looked pleased at the thought of a warm breakfast. As he poured himself a flagon of water, she reached into her vest and drew out one of the soft drawstring bags. It clinked heavily as she laid it at his elbow, and his eyebrows went up. She leaned back in her chair.

"Your advance," she said quietly. "When the job is done, I will give you that amount again plus you may take whatever you wish from the dark elf's citadel." She took a draught from her ale then nodded at the bulging purse. "Most is in large coin and gemstones, but there is some smaller coin that will do for the market in the village."

.
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Postby Frelga » Mon Dec 19, 2005 5:13 pm

Radesh reached out to take the purse. It rolled in his hand; the coins inside shifted and pressed against his palm with a soft jingle. Gold and gemstones. He could pay for a fast and easy way home, and the purse would hardly feel lighter for his sleeping in the inns and eating meat every night. The Hills counted wealth in sheep and pasturelands, not gold, but he would have coins made into earrings and a headdress for…

Nureli. The name slipped into his thought, warm and bittersweet, and unfolded inside his chest, leaving no space to draw breath. She said she would wait for him. But it’s been two years since the word of his death would have reached her, and many more months would pass before he could return. Would she still wait? And if she did, how would she greet the man who came back, the grim, scarred wanderer so unlike the Radesh she remembered.

With a sigh, he closed his hand around the bag. He had to earn the other half of his fee before he could turn home. Until then, asking those questions was like holding ice in his hands over the flames. He wouldn’t melt the ice, only burn himself.

Breakfast was brought and eaten in near silence as both Scribe and the hillman were busy with food and their thoughts. The inn served fresh and simple fair. By the time the plates were cleared, Radesh regained the pleasant mood of the morning. He peered into the hallway that led to Htiet’s room and saw no sign of movement. That was just as well - Easterling’s company did nothing to improve hillman’s cheer.

Pushing the plate away, Radesh rose, and fastened the purse to his belt, opposite the sword. “Thank you for the meal, Scribe. I’ll go see if there is anyone in the market. If I make my purchases now, I’ll be ready to leave by the time Htiet breaks his fast.”

Scribe nodded. “I doubt the Corsair will be ready for his… demonstration… before you get back. But if he is, I will leave the word for you at the inn so you know where to find us.”

He thanked her again and headed out, stopping first at the stables to pick up his pack from the hayloft and to pass a few words with the worthy hobbit. The sun had cleared the roof but she was still warming up, her glow lazy red and not the white-hot of full daylight. The market was just getting started. Carts were pulling in, merchants shifted their wares about to set them off to advantages, women called to each other across the rows, jokes and quarrels flew through the translucent air.

Radesh threw his worn cloak around his shoulders. The morning was chilly and his sheepskin vest was still in Khiran’s possession. So his first stop was at the stand piled with wool, silk and linen clothing. One cloak caught his eye - deep, deep black that seemed to shimmer as the light sunk into it. It reminded him of the burka he had worn at home. That one was felt, thick enough to stop wind, rain, and arrows, and the throat was set off with golden braiding. But black was not a good color for this journey.

“Hey, that’s a pricey cloak you are looking at, friend.” The merchant’s loud voice broke into his thoughts. “How about I show you what I have in used stuff. It’s quite warm, and certainly much better than that rag you are…”

The rest of the rant broke off in a fit of sudden cough. The hillman’s mouth twisted into a grim smile. The Forsaken Inn had taught him much, and silent intimidation was among those skills.

“Show me that grey cloak,” he ordered, reaching into Scribe’s purse. The merchant, pale faced and red-lipped in the cold wind, hesitated until he saw the coin that emerged in the hillman’s fingers. Then he rushed to get the requested article, tripping over his stand in his haste.

Radesh didn’t drive quite as hard a bargain as he could have, for the sheer pleasure of being able to splurge. Soon, the merchant rolled up the two new shirts and a couple of silk tunics for him. Radesh put on the new sheepskin vest, with a high collar that hugged his neck with soft fleece. The grey cloak, its color like a shadow on granite, rippled off his shoulders and swished around his boots. It was the same make as one Htiet bought, and Radesh expected it to serve against cold and wind almost as well as a hill-made burka.

As Radesh passed down the isle in his new finery, the tip of the shashko sheath peering from under the grey hem, he found himself being hailed at every stand as a desirable customer. Quite a change from the usual wary glances, when the sellers hovered over their goods until he passed.

He found a decent bow to replace the light single-arch one he had made for hunting. His hopes for a good dagger were disappointed, but he picked up a long hunting knife that would serve almost as well. A quilted blanket at one stand, a small flagon of clove oil to clean his sword at another, and a few other odds and ends for the hard trails ahead.

Radesh was about to head back to the inn when a table of trinkets caught his eye. Among pewter cups and buckles he spotted a sliver cloak fastener. At the top of the open ring was a figure of a leaping deer. The craftsmanship was plain, yet there was raw strength in the stretched legs and courage in the arched neck and antler-crowned head.

He stopped and picked up the brooch. At home, the deer was depicted with a thicker body and thinner legs, and the antlers were a row of curls, not sharp angles. But the leaping deer was always carved, sewn and painted on things made in his village. When Radesh left home, his father gave him a silver amulet with a deer inside a small circle.

Radesh rubbed his fingers along the base of his throat, but of course the cut had healed long ago, where the Easterling captain tore the leather cord off his neck.

A silver coin paid for the silver brooch. Radesh fastened it at his shoulder, and walked back toward the inn, to see whether rakyi was finally ready to face the day.
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Postby Jiyadan » Wed Dec 21, 2005 4:52 pm

The words of the Easterling forced their way into his mind and he squeezed his eyes tight against the throbbing pain. This was the first time on his entire journey he was actually grateful to be on dry land and not feel the roll of the ship beneath him.

With all the grace of an oliphant, Khiran kicked the covers back and flopped out of bed, his feet landing firm on the floor boards despite the protest of his head. He had woken many a morning feeling perhaps not quite as bad but certainly not much better.

He looked over to where the Easterling lay and forced his eyes open. "This ko komat perhaps had a bit more water than was good for him. Kaiiiiiiiiii" He gave half of a chuckle before the pain forced him to stop.

Khiran was feeling quite old for all his aches and pains that prodded him from various nerve endings. Perhaps the distance from the sea was wearing on his bones more than usual. The roll of the ocean always lifted from him the weariness of the world but now he was stuck in the dirt and mud. Even the clouds were not the same as those that brought the refreshing rains of Harad.

The rain had at least ceased and though the sun did not feel like the same life-giving god that graced the skies of his home, it at least could be seen in this harak-forsaken country.

Forcing himself up to his feet, he realized he still wore all his clothes and so did not need to dress, which was a blessing since he was not sure he could have managed it that morning. Instead he stumbled slightly out of the room and made his way towards the common room. He needed to get something to kill the little man who was playing his head like a doumbek and throwing rocks.

Ignoring the looks of the few that were in the room, he managed to somehow focus on the silver-flecked hair of the woman from last night and made for her until he noticed a pretty young thing standing behind the bar and changed his course abruptly. As he approached, she came over and said something but he barely noticed that he did not even understand what she said. Somehow he figured even if she had been speaking his language he would not have understood her this morning anyway.

Instead, leaning heavily on the bar, he leaned over and spoke very slow and clear. "Water. Egg. Some of whatever that ritsay was I had last night, and some pepper."

She just looked at him and shook her head with a somewhat confused smile. He steadied himself and spoke again, slower and a bit more firm. "Water. Egg. That rits-"

"She can not understand you, Corsair, no matter how slowly you speak." He stopped and turned at the words that came from behind him.

"Kai." He whimpered, the little man was throwing even bigger rocks around his head and drumming quite loud. "I need..."

"Yes, I heard. Water, egg, pepper and hair of the dog."

He sighed thankfully as the woman ordered for him what he could not order himself and waited for his sought-for cure. As he did so, what thoughts his mind could hold through the fog of pain lingered at last on the reason he had come here in the first place. His dream had reminded him he was here to look for a sign of something that would, according to that little old man, lead him to some great destiny.
Last edited by Jiyadan on Sat Dec 24, 2005 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby SilverScribe » Fri Dec 23, 2005 6:11 pm

((OOC: my thanks to elengil for Khiran's half of the scenario ;) ))

IC:

The food was all she expected and both she and the hillman wasted no time tucking in and doing justice. When Radesh left, she pushed back her chair and leaned back, stretching her long legs out under the table and crossing them at the ankle. From where she sat, she could not see the hall that led past the stairs, but there was nothing wrong with her ears. The heavy, unsteady tread told her that it was the Corsair, not the lightfooted Easterling that entered the common room at last. She listened with some amusement as he tried to make the barmaid understand what he wanted, even as she grimaced at the order.

She rose from her place and approached, speaking quietly from behind Khiran. "Kai, I need..."

She interrupted him and smoothly relayed the order to the barmaid in Westron. "Bring a large flagon of water, a raw egg and some black pepper. Oh, and ask the cook . . . the Easterling Matrim hung a string of dried peppers behind the pantry door, if they hang there still, break one off and bring it as well." The girl nodded, and with after casting a somewhat sympathetic look at the Corsair, hurried off.

Scribbles half sat on a barstool next to where Khiran sagged against the bar, his elbows braced and his head cradled gingerly in both hands. Do the Dwarves of Khazad-dum hammer their anvils in your head?" she asked softly in Haradraic.

"Aye. And if ever I get my hands on their necks I'll teach them better!" he groaned in reply.

She laughed. "I doubt they'd stand still long enough."

He silently cursed the barmaid to hurry and looked over at the Scribe. "The don't have to stand still," he murmured. "If my bisen-to is fixed?"

"It is," she replied. "Granted, I had no forge, so it is a temporary fix only. Still, it will be more than adequate for your contest with the Easterling."

He tried to nod but needles shot through his head at the motion and he quickly stopped again. "Aye, and I will be ready too if that tsayka ever returns with my drink."

She laughed again. "You are about to get your wish," she replied, nodding at the barmaid who was hurrying back, her hands full. Khiran raised his head with an effort and reached for the flagon as soon as the barmaid put it down. Scribbles swatted his hand away.

"Not yet," she admonished.

"What the..?" He looked at her as if she had just taken food from a starving baby's mouth.

"Patience, trust me," she said softly. Khiran subsided and watched as she motioned the barmaid over. "Bring the bottle of Harlindon and a spoon," she said quietly, and as the barmaid moved off to comply, she took up the dried pepper and crushed it between one palm and the knuckles of her other hand. She opened her palm and carefully brushed the crushed pepper into the flagon, seeds and all. When the barmaid returned with the Harlindon Clearwater, she filled the spoon and emptied it into the flagon, then stirred it briskly. Sliding the flagon across the bar to the Corsair, she motioned to him.

"Drink" she ordered. "All of it, do not stop to rest."

He wrapped his hand carefully around the flagon while holding the bar with the other hand. After a moment of looking somewhat crosseyed at the drink, he threw the full contents of it down his throat and plunked the flagon back on the counter with a loud clunk. He stood perfectly still for a moment, eyes closed, then he exhaled slowly. "That was good."

Scribbles nodded. "Good. The dwarves should subside soon enough, and if you are hungry, food will help as well."

He opened his eyes again. "Food, aye. That would do me well."

She cocked her head to one side. To assume too much may offend. "How does soft-boiled eggs, fruit bread and smoked ham sound?" she asked.

Khiran coloured slightly. "Like more than I can pay for," he said quietly.

Scribbles waved a hand. "If you fight half as well as you drink," she said with a wry smile, "then consider it paid for." She instructed the barmaid to bring breakfast for the Corsair, then led him back towards the table by the fire. As they sat down, the door opened and the first of the early-rising villagers entered.

Once more, Khiran seated himself in front of the fire, after giving the Bisen-to an appraising lookover. Scribbles leaned forward and wrapped her hands around her ale flagon. "Htiet had the right of it last night," she began. "I am looking for a small number fighting men, ones who understand stealth and will not faint or flinch in a pitched battle. I will pay, and pay well, but only for those who are skilled enough."

Khiran watched her quietly, but remained silent.

She took a draught of her ale and waited until a serving girl had deposited a covered basket of fresh, fragrant fruit bread, a dish of soft boiled eggs and a platter of hot, thick sliced smoked ham on the table between them. She placed a clean wooden trencher in front of Khiran, smiled uncertainly at him, then ducked her head and hurried back to the kitchens.

Scribbles leaned back in her chair and gestured at the food. "Eat," she said. "And if you will still take Htiet up on his challenge and prove to be skilled, you will get the same terms as the others . . . half payment now and half when the job is done."

"The job?" Khiran echoed, reaching for the food.

Scribbles nodded. "Aye, the Hrak Yatsir, that you were so eager to accept last night," she said with a grim look. "But know this, if you become part of this mission, you will have to learn Westron, and quickly. I will not repeat every order twice."

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Mon May 28, 2007 9:46 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sat Dec 24, 2005 5:12 pm

The red peppers that the woman put in the drink added the familiar flavor of home and a deep sense of sickness passed through his heart for Harad, but he pressed it from his mind. Now he had to focus on some food and listening to the words she spoke to him.

The aroma of the various foods placed on the table at once enticed him and made his stomach turn a little. The drink would still take a bit longer to fully take effect and help ease the discomfort and protest of his body over last night's drink and some wise words drifted through his mind for a moment, words his uncle was all too fond of saying.

"So, kids, I'm hung over. Does anyone know what that means?" he'd ask them with a rasp in his voice and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"You're drunk?" they'd hazard in reply as if not quite sure it was the right answer. Which, it wasn't.
"No. It means I was drunk. . . yesterday. . ."


He shook his head a little at the memory and a smile of home and family crossed his face until he realized the woman was speaking again, something about a job?

"The job?" Khiran echoed, reaching for the food.

She nodded. "Aye, the Hrak Yatsir, that you were so eager to accept last night," she said with a grim look. "But know this, if you become part of this mission, you will have to learn Westron, and quickly. I will not repeat every order twice."

'It must be a very long job,' he mused as he took a bite of the ham, then quirked his head. "But you speak Haradric, and the Easterling knows it well enough, why should I have to learn Westron?"

"Because the Hillman does not speak your tongue," she replied and then Khiran remembered the other gentleman with the sour look from the night before. It seemed to him that the Hillman ought just as well learn Haradric also, then it would not matter what language the command was given in, but he was not in a position to really be making such conditions.

In fact, he was not really in a position to really be accepting her offer in the first place. What he wanted was to do whatever it was he was 'meant' to do here and head home again as quick as the winds could push him. However, he could not ignore that winter was descending upon the land and he was ill-fit to be out in it. Perhaps he should take this woman's offer of employment. At the least he would have food in his stomach and that was not nothing.

But back to the topic of repeating orders, his mind considered this a very odd objection in the first place. Orders were always repeated on ships and not because of languages. It ensured that everyone from stem to stern got the order and repeating it ensured it was being conveyed accurately. Besides, listening to these Westerners sounded like dogs barking. The foreign sounds played with his ears and he tended to want to tune it out, not learn it himself!

He looked up to find she was staring at him intently and he realized he had just been sitting there without answering for some time now. Clearing his throat he nodded. "I will fight the Easterling and take your 'hrak yatsir'. I will even learn your barking tongue if you insist, so long as you keep my stomach full and my back covered."
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Postby The_Fool » Mon Dec 26, 2005 8:58 pm

The Corsair’s undignified stumble from the room made Htiet grin a little, but the smile soon faded as he was reminded how close he was to the sailor’s condition. The unpleasant thump in his brain, mixed with the strange dream left him feeling bad tempered. Cautiously laying his head back down upon his pillow he closed his eyes against the sharp white light of morning. It would undoubtedly be better for all if he waited out the foul mood or he would be sure to take it out on the hillman. Something he was certain his employer would be less than pleased about.

His thoughts drifted, unfurling lazily like flags in a warm wind. He thought of what he had been trained for, and of how long it had been since he had fought a man who would understand the complex nuances of the Easterling way of fighting. The fluid, liquid movements that seemed otherworldly to the Westerners, who had never trained to respect the strength of their energy and body. There was a point you could reach every now and again, where you could see the enemy’s next move before he even made it. Time slowed, strength prevailed, pouring forth like water. Htiet wanted to fight like that for his employer today, but with the cursed beat of old drink in his head he doubted he would be able to. Annoyed with himself he tapped his fingers against his stomach.

After a time he stood, stumbling a little for he rose too quickly. One foot knocked against the chair that held his scimitar, and the belt buckles clinked pleasantly. Or at least it would have been if it had not been quite so piercingly high a sound. With a sharp grimace Htiet bent to pull on his boots, brushing off a little dirt from the toe with his palm. Buckling on his weapon he scrubbed his hands distractedly over his face, scratching at his bearded cheeks. It could probably use a trim, but today was not the morning for it. With the stupidly optimistic hope that the sight of food would not make him feel worse he opened the door and made for the common room.

Scribe was talking quietly with Khiran, and to the Easterling’s relief, Radesh did not seem to be anywhere in sight. The customers who had been eating breakfast glanced up as he passed their tables then hunched forward with false concentration, unwilling to invite even the smallest amount of scrutiny from the Easterling as he passed by. Too proud to pay them any notice Htiet strode lightly to the table his employer occupied and pulled up a chair, doing his best not to let the worst of the hangover show on his face.
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Postby SilverScribe » Wed Dec 28, 2005 10:24 am

She watched silently as the Corsair applied himself to some breakfast. He must be feeling somewhat better since he was even attempting food, but she noticed he was conservative in both how much and how fast he ate. Finally, he glanced back at her.

"I will fight the Easterling and take your 'hrak yatsir'. I will even learn your barking tongue if you insist, so long as you keep my stomach full and my back covered."

A wry smile quirked one side of her mouth. "It is only barking to the untrained ear Khiran. Many might say the same of Haradraic."

Khiran's eyes opened slightly at the implied insult. "How could they say this?" he asked. "My tongue is far more fluid than what passes for language here in this frozen, gods-forgotten land!"

She cocked her head to one side. "They could say it because for them, it is true," she countered. "When in a foreign land, Khiran, a wise man learns as much as he can of both the country and the people. Otherwise, he is little better than . . ." she paused for effect . . . "a fish out of water."

She pointed at the flagon of water that sat in front of him. "Lesson number one. In that flagon is 'water', it is also what runs in the rivers and fills the seas."

Khiran grimaced. "Wa-ter," he repeated, then pointed upwards. "And when it falls?"

"Rain," she answered. "And when it freezes, hail or snow."

The Corsair looked blank and Scribbles chuckled into her ale before draining the flagon. "Do not worry, Khiran of Umbar, if you remain in the West for even a short time, you will see both before long. And if you prove a fighter of worth and join my company, then you will see it even sooner."

He grunted. "Where is the other? The hillman," he asked.

She sat back. "Radesh has gone to the market," she answered, then repeated the word 'market' in Westron. Khiran merely shrugged.

They both looked up as Htiet sat down. Scribbles grinned at the Easterling, knowing that the stony expression on his face masked a substantial discomfort. She rose without a word and went to the bar, instructing the barmaid for a repeat of the remedy that Khiran had taken earlier. Returning to the table, she set it down in front of Htiet, then resumed her seat.

"Drink," she said in Westron, then switched to Eastron. "It will help quiet the War Drums in your head. Otherwise, you will fight like a walking dead man."

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Wed Dec 28, 2005 12:38 pm

When the Scribe stood and left for the bar, Khiran glanced over at Htiet. "Wa-ter," he repeated with his thick accent. "What a retched, halting word for such a beautiful thing. Even the Eastron, meha, is better. Mayim; now that flows off the tongue, that truly represents the fluid motion of the thing, no?"

He shook his head and took a few more bites as the Scribe returned and placed the mug before Htiet. As she did so, he leaned over and murmured, "It has a bite of home in it. You will enjoy the drink." He gave a crooked grin and looked back to the Scribe.

"How do you know so much of Harad?" he asked. "We are not accustomed to outsiders, Westerners even less so, being within our lands. Were you a guest of a Lord perhaps?" It occurred to Khiran that if she was honoured among one of the noble houses it could mean fortune for him upon his return. . . whether that fortune be good or bad, Khiran hoped to find out.
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Postby SilverScribe » Wed Dec 28, 2005 3:09 pm

((OOC: my thanks, as ever, to elengil/Jiyadan for Khiran's half of the post ;) ))

IC:

"How do you know so much of Harad?" he asked. "We are not accustomed to outsiders, Westerners even less so, being within our lands. Were you a guest of a Lord perhaps?"

Scribbles shrugged. "I am somewhat of a scholar. I have spent much of my life travelling and studying, when not at war," she answered simply. She did not elaborate on what lands she had travelled through, for with the exception of the far East, she had seen plenty of all of them, including Mordor. She shuddered inwardly at the memories of that cursed and blasted place, then poured herself some water from the pitcher on the table.

She gave Khiran a sidelong look. "As I mentioned before, learning about other lands and peoples is often useful." She glanced at Htiet. "And sometimes, two lands will meet in unexpected places, or in unexpected people. Then one can learn more than one hoped to."

Khiran snorted softly. "A riddle?"

She kept her face impassive. "Aye, perhaps. Is not the El Zikher somewhat of a puzzle?"

Khiran narrowed his eyes. It was not a surprise that outsiders would have heard of the position itself, but that she seemed to imply she knew more than that unsettled him in a way he could not quite define. "What do you know of our El Zikher?"

"Which one?" she said with a slight smile.

He snorted again. "You speak in riddles yourself, Scribe."

She spread her hands in a very Eastern gesture. "I ask a plain question. Do you wish to hear of the current El Zikher, Moujhadin AlNahi eZahor? Or of his predecessor, Jiyadan Mohi Ims'Khajah? They are both known to me."

Khiran's eyes widened, then narrowed again. "How do you know those names?" he demanded, his voice hard edged. "No one outside of Harad knows those names!"

One eyebrow climbed high. "Untrue, since it appears at least one person outside of Harad knows those names, yes?" She paused to take a deep draught of water, then raked back her hair with her free hand, a small, secret smile of memory playing over her lips. "Jiyadan Mohi Ims'Khajah slept in my bed," she said softly. "Here, in this very Inn."

Khiran had the unfortunate timing of taking a drink at the time and therefore almost choked to death on it, spraying some out on the table and gasping for breath. He would have vehemently denied the truth of her words had he not known that the El Zikher had been banished from Harad and had gone West. He might still have vehemently denied it but at the moment he was too busy choking to offer any words at all.

Scribbles let the smile widen. "Of course," she added as Khiran fought to catch his breath, "I didn't happen to be there at the time." Htiet laughed and she decided to play the Corsair little longer. "But he was gracious in his thanks for the loan of a room, nonetheless," she finished.

Khiran sputtered and choked a bit more before recovering himself and looked to this woman whose strangeness only grew with time. "You .. you do speak the truth." He contemplated this for a moment before adding, "Had you claimed to be in it at the time, I would have fought you instead for daring to speak a lie against him," he said. Though they both knew he would have not been the victor, that he was deadly serious was plain.

"I would speak no lie against Jiyadan," she answered softly. "Nor Moujhadin, for they are both honourable friends."

Khiran let this all sink in for a moment. "You... you know them yourself? Call them friend?" He spoke more to himself than her, as if trying to find some fault with them but unable to. Yet still his mind rebelled against this and he needed something more, something to prove her words. "If he, also, calls you friend, you will know the name of his horse."

She chuckled. "I certainly hope that they both still call me friend," she answered, then suddenly sobered. But would they? If word ever reached them of her recent treatment of Façade, what would they think of her then? What would they think of her honour, now that she had thrown it into the muck by betraying another she had called friend? What would they think of her word now, now that she had broken it beyond any hope of repair? She bowed her head and closed her eyes briefly, then opened them to stare at the table top.

"Nothea," she said softly. "When I travelled with him, he rode Nothea. Though I know not if he still does."

Khiran dropped his eyes to the table, the proof he had asked for provided. The truth of her words, though, he could not deny, not now. He swallowed hard, his eyes rising to see where his newly crafted weapon lay propped against the mantle beside the fireplace. Looking back to the Scribe for a moment, he stood and retrieved it, coming back to kneel before her and holding his weapon across his hands. "Any named friend by my Lords will be called my Lord as well," he said solemnly.

.
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Postby The_Fool » Wed Dec 28, 2005 6:11 pm

The drink proved satisfyingly effective, cleansing the palette and burning away the foggy pain that had been residing so stubbornly within his forehead. He spoke little, merely nodding at Khiran to show he had heard, for he needed some time to reorder his thoughts and preserve the first of his new found strength. The Corsair did not seem bothered by this for he settled into a lengthy conversation with Scribe, the words flowing between them with pleasant musicality.

Htiet knew tolerable Haradic, as most Easterling soldiers did, and so it was not much of a task for him to follow their discussions, eyes flicking unconsciously sideways every now and again as he observed the minute changes in his surroundings as people came and went. A cat stretched by the fireplace. A woman almost spilt a morning ale. Seated as he was Htiet could not help thinking he should have a more acceptable position for defending his charge; until he realised that such thoughts were no longer his concern.

Between the two at his table the conversation had intensified, the words they spoke seeming to wait upon some confirmation that would allow them to become identifiable. Htiet was quiet and solemn, dark eyes fixed upon Khiran as the nature of them unfolded. He knew only pieces of the hierarchy of Harad, knew the title ‘El Zikher’ if not the names of the men themselves. Although to him it was strange that both men mentioned had names of Easterling origin. It meant little to him that Scribe had known these men, but the weight of emotion that seemed to hang about the Corsair was palpable. His eyes were wide, gleaming with some ambiguous emotion that at first Htiet could not name. Yet as the sailor knelt before his employer it floated to the forefront of his mind. Loyalty. Honour.

He swallowed hard, the corner of his mouth twitching imperceptibly as one hand moved unconsciously to rub at the crescent scar on his darkly coloured cheek. For a moment he felt a twinge of unexpected jealousy at this man who could still fight for the things that were beyond his reach, but it was short lived. He could not belittle a man who could make a life for himself built on morality. The dark, almond-shaped eyes closed languorously and the ghost of a smile flickered briefly upon his lips. “How lucky you are, ko komat,” he said simply.
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Postby SilverScribe » Thu Dec 29, 2005 3:01 pm

Scribbles allowed no flicker of the immense surprise she felt show in her face or her eyes. Instead she glanced over the head of the kneeling Corsair as Htiet murmured, “How lucky you are, ko komat."

"Luck?" she said softly in Eastron. "This is not luck, this is . . ." Words failed her as her gaze briefly travelled beyond the Easterling as well. Several of the early morning patrons were turned in their seats, obviously curious as to what in all of their limited experience was going on at her table.

"Get up!" she hissed in Haradraic to Khiran from between clenched teeth.

"Please, Lord, do not turn away your servant." he answered.

She drew a deep, steadying breath, then leaned close to where the Corsair knelt, so that her lips were close to his ear.

"Neither Moujhadin nor Jiyadan ever required nor ever asked that I call them 'lord' ", she said quietly. "We accepted each other on merit, not on titles. So I will not require or ask you to use a title I do not deserve."

"As you yourself have seen, I have little to my name, but your fine craftsmanship has rendered me at least a weapon. May I therefore lay the bisen-to of Khiran, Corsair of Umbar, upon your lap, SilverScribe, named friend of my Lords? If you will, I give you my service unto the end."

She smiled to herself, pleased at his honesty. "You honour me with your words, Khiran of Umbar. But I will accept your oath and your Bisen-to when you prove your worth as a warrior, not as a servant."

As she sat back, a movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention. Her face froze, covering her surprise as she looked up, over the head of the still kneeling Corsair, right into the face of the hillman, Radesh.

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Thu Dec 29, 2005 3:37 pm

Khiran hesitated a moment, uncertain, before he sat back and lowered his weapon. He looked up at the Hillman before standing and moving around to the other side of the table and sitting again. He was looking very much like a lost sailor who had found his captain at last.

Though he did not say it, the words of Htiet rang quite true, lucky indeed. Closing his eyes for a moment, Khiran began to piece the bits of his dream together along with the esoteric words of the Hikha. He had seen the battle standard of Harad. Certainly this woman who claimed such close friendship with the commanders of the Haradrim army that they did not even demand she call them 'Lord' could be nothing else but that standard he was to follow.

The drink had brought some clarity to his mind and he now regretted having drunk so much the night before. Would he be able to prove himself as this woman demanded? What do you do with a drunken Corsair, early in the morning? He gave a soft snort as the words of the shanty flooded his mind and for a moment he could almost taste the salt-sea air and feel the rope in his hands.

"My weapon is restored," he said softly to the Easterling. "Therefore I will fight you today to prove myself."
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Postby Frelga » Thu Dec 29, 2005 11:34 pm

Deep in thought, Radesh strolled from the marketplace to the inn. Once again he stopped at the stables to deposit his pack, now filled with his purchases, in the stall of his horse. Han the Halfling rushed out to meet him.

"Good morning, my lord, and what may I do for… oh. Is that you Master Radesh? I beg your pardon, I mistook you in this fine new cloak. How did you like our marketplace? Some good wares we have here, don't we?"

"Good morning, Han," Radesh replied with a grin. "It is pleasant to see that my new clothes are greeted so warmly."

"Now, Master Radesh, don't you be cross with me," replied the flustered Halfling. "I'm glad enough to see you, after all the help you gave me last night. It's just that when you walked in, tall as you are and all war-like, and that brooch sparkling in the light… well, it was an honest mistake is all. You do look a bit lordly, if you forgive me for saying so."

Radesh accepted the hobbit's apologies with a good-natured shrug. He took a few moments to clean the river mud from the morning's run off his boots and brush a few stray straws out of his hair. Then he headed for the common room.

To his amusement, the few early patrons he met in the yard gave him looks more in line with the hobbit's confusion than the usual hostile wariness. Radesh credited his new cloak with this improved reception. There was a rich look to the smooth wool that draped into soft folds as it fell off his broad shoulders. But more than that, it set off the hillman's proud bearing, the straight posture of a man who never had to bow to another.

As he stepped inside the common room, Radesh forgot all about the clothes and hobbits as he beheld the extraordinary scene by the fireplace. He was surprised enough to find both the Easterling and the Corsair upright after yesterday's liquor. But the Corsair was kneeling in front of Scribe, his weapon balanced over both palms as if he offered his fealty to a queen.

Radesh stopped by the door, unwilling to intrude. Why must they always do that, he wondered? Was it living in the plains, with no ice-crowned peaks to hold up the sky, that made men long for someone to look up to? In the Hills, a man's duty was to his family and his village, his people and his land. Each of them tended his crops and his flocks and each was well trained in combat so he may defend them. None was higher than any other. But these lowlanders, both in the West and in the East, they were lost unless they had a lord to order them around. Take their orders away, and they would run wild and scared until some firm hand gathered the reins.

He glanced at Htiet. There was a wistful look on the face of that arrogant Easterling as he watched the kneeling Corsair. That is the rakyi's way, Radesh thought. I will do it my way, the way of the Hills. With that thought came resolve, an understanding so blinding that in one moment he could see many things yet none clearly. He took a step forward and instantly Scribe was aware of him, meeting his eyes over Khiran's head.

The Corsair, too, looked up at him before he returned to his seat. Radesh approached the table, and greeted all three companions with equal courtesy, Htiet included.

"Looks like you found yourself the third man, Scribe?" he asked.
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Postby SilverScribe » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:14 am

Khiran, sensing the hillman standing behind him, looked up, rose and resumed his seat, though he retained the hold on the bisen-to, planting the butt of the pole against the floor as though it were a flag standard.

Radesh closed the last few paces to the table and spoke up, greeting each seated man politely before turning back to her. "Looks like you found yourself the third man, Scribe?" he asked.

She looked over at Khiran, then at Htiet, then back up at the hillman. "Perhaps," she answered quietly, "and perhaps not. There is still the matter of skill to be settled."

She made a point of looking past the hillman at the few patrons who were still openly staring at their table. One by one, they all ducked their heads and returned to their own meals or conversations, and the gentle hum of normal morning business once more filled the common room.

As Radesh took a seat, she gestured at his new finery. "A handsome cloak Radesh, and by the look of it, a warm one. It will serve you very well on the road we must take."

Radesh looked pleased with himself and she had to stifle a smile. A bit of pride in a new purchase was no crime. Scribbles looked back at the other two men. "There is a large meadow around back of this Inn that will serve very well for your . . . demonstration. It is open and level and far enough from the Inn proper that we will attract no attention." She spread her hands. "Whenever you are ready, gentlemen."

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Postby Jiyadan » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:27 am

"Open and level..." Khiran mused with a snort. "Is this journey likely to be all on open, level land? Such offers even the poorest of fighters a good showing. But no matter, if that is the place you wish to test my skill, so be it."

He stood and tested the fitting of where the head held the pole, ensuring it was secure enough for fighting. When he was satisfied, he nodded. "Let us go then, Easterling, and let us fight as fiercly as the dwarves hammer!"

Khiran would have marched straight away to the field of battle... could he but see a rear exit in the room. Feeling not at all like looking the fool and fumbling around in an attempt to find his way, he decided instead to wait for the Scribe to lead the way to the place she had chosen.
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Postby The_Fool » Fri Dec 30, 2005 7:29 pm

"Let us go then, Easterling, and let us fight as fiercly as the dwarves hammer!"

Htiet snorted, grinning slightly as he placed both hands upon the table and rose. “As you wish, Corsair.” One hand grasped the hilt of his scimitar loosely and a sudden feeling of cool elation swept through the former bodyguard, his dark eyes glinting with a hidden fire. The prospect of the perfect fight was already warming his blood.

Scribe left her seat then, making no gestures as she strode purposefully towards the hallway in which their room had been situated until they reached a sturdy wood door. Khiran had followed immediately after her, close on her heels like a guard dog. With a small jerk of his chin Htiet had allowed Radesh to take a place behind the Corsair and then, his grin widening, white teeth gleaming he took up the rear, old war songs drumming in his ears.

Death is before me
Death is beneath my feet
Death is in my hands
He who goes yonder
Rises like a god on the battleground
Death to the enemies of Hidakh, God of War
Victory!
Victory!
Victory!


The roar of a thousand throats pressed about Htiet’s ears. His homeland sung in his blood. The door opened. And together they spilled out into the meadow which to Htiet, seemed as vast and as flat as the rocky desert surrounding his home. Khiran stopped and blinked, glancing about to survey the terrain, his bisen-to held upright, the metal gleaming in the weak Western sun. In the cold of this new country the two men of the Exotic looked out of place, their dark skin and hair seeming to soak up the sun.

“How shall we begin, ko komat?” Htiet asked, his voice ringing with his sharp eagerness, that wide grin fierce in the black beard, the hammering in his skull reduced to almost nothing. “Shall we greet our gods and give thanks?”

"You may pray to your gods if you wish," Khiran shot back with a grin and a laugh. "I have no need to petition them to help defeat you!"

Htiet only smiled and turned to face the sun. Both hands pressed together beneath his chin he raised his face to the sun, moving both hands upwards as he did so to press the backs of his thumbs to his forehead. Turning his head slightly he grinned at Khiran and intoned:

“Hidakh is snarer; he has bound them well:
He has cut the throats and torn the entrails
He is feasting on their secret names
He is devouring their hearts and their spirits
He has swallowed up the Snake and the Lion
Hidakh, your Power is the Power of Powers!
To live forever, eternally, is to do as you desire.”


With no formal flourish Htiet drew his scimitar, raised the blade and kissed it. In his minds eye he saw a great cat and whispered against the deadly steel of his weapon came the words for Hastet alone: “Make my hand strong and certain. Guide me to the right path.”
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Postby Jiyadan » Sat Dec 31, 2005 2:26 am

As Htiet made his own supplication to his god of war, Khiran narrowed his eyes but did not close them fully, never taking his eyes from his opponent. "A'imha," he breathed. "For your glory."

Turning then towards the Scribe, while still keeping Htiet within his peripheral vision, he announced boldly, "Today I will fight for you. May my weapon be named worthy to follow you into battle." He brought his hand to cover the fist with which he held his bisen-to and gave a bow, then turning towards Htiet again he repeated the movement, bowing.

"I am ready for you, Easterling."

Htiet nodded once, a swift movement of his head and all of his body seemed to set into a stance of attentive excitement, a lucid tensing of the muscles that were imperceptible to those unfamiliar with battle. "Come then, ko komat. Let us fight!" He tossed his head and the grin slipped from his lips, an intensity and stillness in his features replacing the teasing expression of before.

Khiran dropped into a ready stance, bringing the bisen-to long against his arm, the point towards the ground and the shaft laying across his back. It was a weapon not often seen among sailors but it had been his father's, from the war. The blade was tarnished from the wet Northern climate and the tassel dulled with age, but he held it proud and firm, knowing his weapon gave him an advantage over the scimitar of the Easterling.

He watched his opponent with an intense, careful gaze, noting his subtle movements. Advancing at an angle, he walked half-sideways, one foot placed to the side and just before the other.

For a moment Htiet watched him, blinking those blazing dark eyes as he too seemed to be gauging his opponent's skill. In that moment he felt as close to home as he ever had, time coming to a precious halt as the ghosts of the past rushed about him. Soldier, bodyguard, warrior. He made the first move, quick as a lightning strike, whipping in from the side with scimitar held back, already swinging it towards the Corsair with a force that sent the air about it singing.

A parry came at the last moment, turning aside the blade and immediately being forced to counter another strike. Khiran was forced to take steps backwards, his bisen-to shaft working like a staff to block the Easterling's attacks. The dance had begun, each man seeming to follow a complex choreography as they moved about each other. The bisen-to arched, forcing Htiet to bend backwards out of its path as the other end followed and swung towards his feet.

The Easterling curved his back like a snake, catching sight of the end of the bisen-to as it cut its way towards his ankle a move with the ability to knock his feet from beneath him. With a sharp exhalation of air the Easterling leapt, twisting his body to avoid the sharp point of Khiran's weapon. He hit the ground in a crouched position, one leg swinging out straight and strong to hook at Khiran's ankles as he began his recovery.

The blunt end of the bisen-to hit the ground even as Khiran's foot was hooked and pulled from beneath him, but the staff was enough to support his balance and he recovered his footing with only a slight difficulty. A hiss formed on his lips as he curled them into a grin, forgetting the chill in the air as the rush of battle flooded his veins. His head still ached though not nearly as much as it had earlier and he knew he was not top of his form; he hoped only that he could offer the skill that the woman desired.

He held his weapon straight now, the blade-edge flashing in the sunlight as he thrust towards Htiet. The Easterling's scimitar turned the bisen-to but it twisted around, forcing him to parry it again and again as Khiran advanced now. With the speed of training, Khiran pulled his weapon back and turned quickly, moving in closer and bringing the flat of his blade to slap against Htiet's stomach.

The onslaught had been hard and fast, and Htiet was forced to admit that he had underestimated this young sailor. He was quicker than most with the bisen-to and it was just as he had reached this conclusion that the flat of the blade slapped him across his stomach. A sharp gust of air accompanied it as Htiet sprang backwards like a cat who had touched water, bristling. "Kai!"

Khiran did not allow himself to drop his readiness to gloat over the touch. Instead he retreated a step and brought the shaft along his arm and back again as in the beginning. He stood tall and proud, the fighter in his blood plain as his eyes never left the Easterling.

The corner of Htiet's mouth twitched upwards in a smile, pleased by the Corsair's attitude. This was a man he would be proud to fight with. Someone he could trust. "Again," he said softly in Haradic, bringing his scimitar up, stroking along the flat of the blade with index and middle finger until he came to the point, one leg outstretched before him, all his weight behind, ready to spring.

A grin spread on the Corsair's face now, his spirit soaring at the familiar taste of battle, the ringing of the blade and fire in his opponent's eyes. He might even imagine himself with a pretty thing looking on to cheer him and promise him a night's reward if he fought well. The drums of the dwarves had been replaced by the memory of the mighty war-drums of the Haradrim when they would march.

To drums, to drums we march, we march
With sword and arrow, shield and torch
The horn and banners tread before
We march, we march, we march to war!


The muscles around his eye twitched as he changed his stance, fluidly shifting his weight and bringing his bisen-to across his body.

As soon as Khiran moved Htiet made a lunge in, the Corsair parrying swiftly. Dancing sideways Htiet smacked his scimitar down onto the staff of the bisen-to, jarring it as he spun sideways, bringing his elbow up as he swung the blade about in a circular motion. With a sharp jerk of his arm he made to bring the heavy hilt under his opponent's jaw.

A sharp pain exploded under his chin. Khiran had countered but not quick enough, catching a bit of the hilt; as he stumbled back his hand brushed across his chin and came away with smeared blood. He spat a little out on the grass and brought his shaft up in a somewhat more defensive stance than he had before.

Both men had got the measure of the other now. The war dance had closed in, drums from different lands beating in their head, the fires of the homelands flashing in their eyes. They circled cautiously for a moment and then it began again, that fluid but dangerous choreography. The bisen-to hummed as it shot out towards him, an extension of its fighter's arm and hearing it Htiet bent back and ducked to one side, skipping forward to bring his scimitar slicing upwards, the tip brushing the blades of grass as it came whistling towards Khiran's thigh and side.

Khiran spun to the side to avoid the blade, his own cutting through the air as he came round, pushing Htiet's scimitar aside but it was already waiting for him as he redirected towards the Easterling. Their weapons moved faster now as the familiar motions, too long forgotten, were remembered. Attack, parry, counter, thrust, slice... the Easterling's blade moved almost faster than the eye could follow, the advantage of the Corsair's bisen-to the only thing between he and defeat. Still, the bisen-to was in the hands of a skilled fighter and he did not give the Easterling an easy target.

Although Htiet was hard pressed to find an opening in Khiran's defense he showed no sign of frustration. He appeared concentrated but calm, eyes always watching, flickering, waiting for that defining moment when the bisen-to's reach would give out and he would be allowed into the circle, ready to make the final move to proclaim victory. Both weapons were a blur, their wielders moving in graceful but almost impossibly quick circles. Feet swirling in the wet grass, soaking Htiet's boots as the former bodyguard began to press a harder attack.

The relentless power of the Easterling was beginning to wear Khiran, unused to such sustained battle. He was now entirely making defensive moves, no room for attack left him. His own bare feet were wet from the grass, his pant legs soaked half way to his knees. He had little doubt of the outcome of this spar yet would not give an inch, not for a moment give anything less than if the Easterling truly wished his life; but he was growing tired, unable to match the skill that had been drilled into the soldier since before Khiran had even learned how to hold a weapon.

The fire in those dark eyes flared, a small pursing of the lips accompanying it as the Easterling leapt back from a thrust towards his chest, throwing his arms wide as he did. The Corsair made another defensive stab, trying to put some space between himself and his attacker. Htiet leapt again, this time slightly sideways, twisting his torso and bringing his scimitar up high. As gravity brought him back he brought the scimitar down with incredible force, hitting the bisen-to just behind the metal head. The strength of the blow jarred the entire length of the flexible wood, causing it to go rigid in its fighter's hands.

Khiran scrambled backwards, his hands shaking with the force of Htiet's blow, but seemingly unable to escape the Easterling as he shadowed him. With the last of his strength he managed to gain himself some distance, dropping into a deep stance and holding the bisen-to out before him. The wet grass had dampened even the tassel of his blade-head and he swept his weapon into a small arch, sending a shower of droplets into the air between the them.

Time slowed to a crawl. Htiet could see everything happening before his very eyes. This was that moment, when everything became perfectly clear and he could see the very end of their sparring match. Khiran had made that fatal mistake, swinging the bisen-to in such a way that there was a perfect opening, framed almost by the drops of water that still hung in the air. Quick as a striking snake Htiet leapt into the gap, feeling the press of those droplets on his skin as his scimitar found its way home.

Had this been a true death-match, Khiran would certainly have been laid to the ground by the strike; but this was only a friendly spar. Instead, he felt the breath knocked from him as the sharp pain of the hilt digging into his side struck home. He hissed through his teeth as he bent over and leaned on the shaft of his bisen-to.

"Kai." The word was barely murmured out, and as Htiet stepped back from his victory, Khiran bowed in an echo of his opening gesture. "There is no shame in being bested by you," he grinned. He hoped only that he had performed to the standards of the one that Harad's greatest warriors would call 'friend'.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sat Dec 31, 2005 3:49 pm

Scribbles waved agreement at the barmaid's query as they passed, that they were done with the table and she could clear it for the next patrons.

Silently, she led the men down the back hall and out the service door next to the kitchens, continuing to walk across the long meadow away from the Inn as the Corsair and the Easterling traded remarks. When she stopped and turned, Radesh came up from his place behind the Corsair and stood to one side of her, facing the other two men. At her silent nod, Khiran and Htiet grinned at each other, then moved off a few paces and squared off.

She hid a smile at Khiran's cocky reply to Htiet's invitation to invoke their gods, and listened with quiet curiosity to the war chant the Easterling answered with. When he was done, Khiran turned to her.

"Today I will fight for you. May my weapon be named worthy to follow you into battle."

As the two began their preliminary moves, she glanced sideways at the hillman. "What do you think Radesh? A polearm against a scimitar, could you pick a victor?"

Radesh's eyes narrowed as he watched the opening moves. "It is too soon to tell," he said simply, and she smiled as she turned back to the contest.

She forced her breathing to remain measured, even, though the passion and intensity of the two men moving over the wet grass was palpable. Her eyes flicked from man to man, from weapon hands to feet, from eyes to shoulders, from legs to torso. She recorded the style of each, and freely admired the fluid movements of both.

The Easterling Htiet immediately proved his own claim, his form and discipline were excellent, the marks of a well trained soldier obvious to even a blind man. The reach and range of the bisen-to did not seem to frighten or frustrate him, he found inumerable ways to duck its range and even step inside its reach, to good effect. She gradually turned her attention more onto Khiran, as the Corsair bent to his task with intensity, the former cockiness gone. He used the weapon in his hands well, shifting his grip and stance in ways that made the bisen-to appear to live and breathe of its own accord.

Radesh grunted softly in sympathy when the Corsair executed a particularly clever move and Htiet took a sound blow in the stomach from the flat of the bisen-to's blade. Scribbles' eyes narrowed, if this had been a battlefield, the Easterling might now be on his knees holding his guts in his hands, or at the least, be nursing a nasty slash across his midsection. Only the speed of Htiet's leaping retreat would have saved him.

Her face remained impassive, though inwardly she was already pleased with both men's display. Khiran did not gloat over his strike, and Htiet did not become angry or flustered. There was a concentrated coolness in both men, which, when coupled with the obvious heat of combat produced the best in a fighting man. Nerves, and the ability to think on his feet.

Htiet beckoned Khiran back to the fight and the Corsair now took his own turn to recite a war chant, right before the Easterling struck with the speed of a cobra. In moments, the two men were once again weaving and passing, weapons flashing and breath steaming in the coolness of the midmorning air. Radesh leaned over.

"The Corsair, he is tiring," the hillman observed coolly. "Aye," Scribbles agreed quietly. "Though he has skill enough, the Easterling has the greater stamina. A true mark of Rhûn, their warriors are drilled hard."

They fell silent again as the match continued and the determination and effort of both men escalated. Suddenly, the weak early winter sun flashed on the Easterling's blade and Scribbles tensed as Htiet's scimitar arrowed in. At the last moment however, the former bodyguard reversed the blade and struck the Corsair just below the ribs with the hilt of his weapon.

As Htiet stepped back and Khiran leaned on his bisen-to to catch his breath, Scribbles glanced at Radesh's profile. "A good match, Scribe," he said softly without taking his eyes off the two men in front of him.

She nodded silent agreement. A good match indeed, one which answered her primary questions about the skill of the men involved. And one which gained her another man but also presented her with a problem. She left the hillman and walked to where the Easterling and the Corsair stood.

She looked at Htiet, put one hand over her heart and inclined her head in the Elvish fashion. "Hail and well fought, Htiet of the East," she said softly in Eastron. "You honour Hidakh well with your skill."

She dropped her hand as she turned back to Khiran, cocked one eyebrow and addressed him in Haradraic. "And you, Khiran of Umbar, have not shamed yourself nor your people this day. You have a place in the Blood Hunt if you wish it."

.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sat Dec 31, 2005 10:18 pm

The staff was a welcome support for a few more moments as Khiran let the pain in his side ease slowly. Taking long, measured breaths, he at last came to stand upright and rubbed the spot where the Easterling's hilt had jabbed him. "Next time, I will remember to hit you harder so we will be even."

“Next time, ko komat, I hope you will not hit me at all,” Htiet grinned, pressing the flat of his hand against his stomach and giving a quick wink.

Khiran waved a finger at him. "We shall see, Easterling. We shall see." All the same, he dipped his head to him.

Htiet grinned breathlessly, sheathing his scimitar as he inclined his head respectfully to Khiran. "My thanks, Khiran, for such an exhilarating match. It has been along time since I have fought someone who knows form and grace as well as strength."

Khiran bowed low, this time allowing his eyes to close fully in a sign of trust towards his comrade. "Not since I left my home has my blood felt the heat of battle. Even the cold of this country can not entirely freeze it out!"

"Hail and well fought, Htiet of the East," the Scribe said softly in Eastron. "You honour Hidakh well with your skill."

Htiet inclined his head to Scribe in a shallow bow. “I will always fight for honour. You have my thanks for your respectful appreciation Scribe.”

Radesh stood beside, seemingly annoyed at the language that passed between the other three with ease but was lost to his own ears. Khiran watched and wondered if the hillman would learn his language just as the Corsair was being required to learn theirs.

The Scribe dropped her hand as she turned back to Khiran, cocked one eyebrow and addressed him in Haradraic. "And you, Khiran of Umbar, have not shamed yourself nor your people this day. You have a place in the Blood Hunt if you wish it."

A broad smile spread on the Corsair's face, but was quickly tempered as he bowed to her. "To fight for such a one as you is an honour not often found. I will follow you as I would follow my Lord El Zikher of Harad and take this task you have offered." Then, ignoring the rain-soaked ground, he knelt once again before the Scribe and held his weapon up before her. "Now that I have proved myself worthy on the field of battle, again will I raise my weapon to you in offering of service. May it not be denied a second time, I pray."
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Postby SilverScribe » Sun Jan 01, 2006 4:00 pm

Khiran smiled, then bowed. "To fight for such a one as you is an honour not often found. I will follow you as I would follow my Lord El Zikher of Harad and take this task you have offered."

Scribbles watched as Khiran sank to one knee, his weapon once more held up before him, balanced across his open palms. "Now that I have proved myself worthy on the field of battle, again will I raise my weapon to you in offering of service. May it not be denied a second time, I pray."

She stepped forward and closed his hands around the pole of the bisen-to, covering his hands firmly with her own. "I accept your weapon, and your skill. Your service will be fairly paid for, Khiran of Umbar. Rise a warrior, for I will let no man call you my servant."

He gripped the shaft in his fists, feeling a rush at her touch on his hands. When she let go and stepped back, he rose to his feet smoothly. Placing the butt of the shaft on the ground, he took his free hand and covered his heart. "No man save El Zikher himself will part me from your company while your quest continues!"

Scribbles smiled slightly, then reached into her vest. "I doubt we will cross paths with the El Zikher, but I appreciate the sentiment." She withdrew a small pouch, identical to the one she had given the hillman, and held it out to Khiran. It had been meant for Htiet but the Corsair, standing shivering before her barefoot and clad only in his trousers, was obviously in greater need at the moment.

"Your advance, there is more than enough in there to buy you warm clothes," she said, then grinned. "And, new boots. Bargain hard, but bargain fair. The merchants in the little village market are good folk. You will get the other half of the payment when the job is done."

Htiet watched this exchange calmly and she turned to him. "Your payment is waiting for you as well Htiet, back at the Inn," she said, switching back to Westron. "I would not break my word to you." She needed to finish packing, she could make up the Easterling's advance and give it to him before they left.

Radesh joined them and she squinted up briefly at the sun, then glanced back in turn at each of the three men. "It is not yet midday. I would like to leave soon and make some miles before nightfall. We will meet in front of the stables, say, in just under two hours time, ready to ride."

She repeated herself quickly in Haradraic for Khiran, and he immediately paled under his dusky skin. "I have no horse, Scribe," he admitted nervously. She cast back in her memory to the day before and where they had met him at the Last Bridge and realized that indeed, she hadn't seen a horse.

"Worry about warm clothes and I'll see what I can do about a mount," she answered, then turned and began walking back towards the Inn.

'Though from what I saw in the stableyard yesterday, I don't hold any hope of it being a very good one,' she thought to herself.

.
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Postby The_Fool » Sun Jan 08, 2006 11:10 pm

Htiet rubbed his thumb across the hilt of his scimitar absently, watching Scribe as she strode off across the grass to see to the Corsair’s problem. “She is one of a kind eh ko komat?” he grinned, turning to look at Khiran with a roguish wink.

Khiran turned to look at the Easterling. “I would follow her to the ends of the earth.”

The words collided with Htiet, bringing a rush of thoughts and memories to hiss in his ears. Oaths given to Hazir to protect and serve until death took him. “I do not have that honour,” he replied simply.

“Why?” Khiran's brow furrowed slightly and he took a step closer. “Why not pledge your loyalty here?”

“Because I have no right to.” Htiet’s voice came out rough, and he coughed abruptly, clearing his throat. “It is complicated business ko komat.”

Khiran shrugged. He was fingering the joint of the bisen-to head where it gripped the shaft, speaking without even looking at the Easterling. “We each make our own fate. Loyalty is given in quests like these, whether by word or deed. Might as well call your actions what they are.”

A small rumble of laughter fell from Htiet’s lips and he shook his head slightly, staring at Khiran as if he were the most peculiar creature he had ever come in contact with. Despite the fact that he was accepting money as the reason to accompany Scribe, the Corsair still seemed to think honour could be kept. “You have a strange way of looking at things, ko komat. Maybe it is the pirate in you.” He grinned then, a sideways quirk of his mouth that exposed his white teeth.

Khiran gave a sharp laugh and grinned as well. “Well then, let us go pillage the market, for a fish I may be, but a cold fish I am no doubt!”

“Kai, and who can blame you!?” Htiet exclaimed, clapping him firmly on the shoulder in his amusement. “In this country even the sun has a chill.”

The Corsair rubbed his head, wiping away droplets of water from the spar, and followed Htiet as they started off in the direction of the market place. He was eager to have a pair of good boots without holes in them and warm clothing to fend off this Western chill. Htiet cast one quick glance Radesh’s way, but the hillman seemed preoccupied and so he left him be, turning his attention back to Khiran and the walk ahead of them.

They entered the inn through the door they had exited, making their way down the hall to their room. Htiet picked up his new cloak, swinging it about his shoulders and fastening it with firm fingers. The hood fell back over his shoulders, exposing the fur within the hood. Dressed as he was he felt strangely removed from his own culture, cut off by the need to adopt Western ideals. He tugged absently at the sleeve of his old uniform, the black and gold of Hazir, then pulled on his gloves.

Once both men were ready they left via the front door, neither abandoning their weapons. For Htiet it was his right to carry his scimitar wherever he may have gone. It was protection and it was status. Few would bother him for being a stranger and Easterling if they saw him armed. They way he carried himself had a way of persuading even the more adventurous of thugs to look elsewhere for prey. A couple of chickens were loose before the market, clucking and pecking at the muddy dirt whilst a stray dog eyed them hungrily. They broke, squawking, to make way for the two men, scampering in a flurry of wings and feathers to avoid their feet.

“What is first?” Htiet asked, glancing about as they entered the first line of stalls. “Boots perhaps? Or warmer clothes?”

Khiran looked around. “We will buy first whatever we come to first. I need both,” he said with a laugh.

“Then let us see what this market has to offer,” Htiet mused, scratching his chin thoughtfully as he cast his eye across the crowds. Already they were being watched, the villagers cautiously curious, perhaps a little frightened by the glint of the sun upon Khiran’s bisen-to, and the serious expression in Htiet’s sloe eyes.

The scents of cooking drifted on the cold morning air, reminding the former bodyguard that he had not eaten breakfast. Perhaps if there was time afterwards he and Khiran could find a food stall to serve their more exotic tastes. One could only hope, Htiet thought wryly. Strolling along he barely noticed the way the crowd parted for him, people slipping sideways to allow him to pass unhindered for fear of annoying the two strangers. After a moment he spotted a promising looking cobbler, the slightly tattered awning of his stall still bright despite the fading of the sun. Beneath it his wares were displayed with precision and care.

Grasping Khiran by the shoulder to gain his attention Htiet jerked his chin in the cobbler’s direction, and together they made their way across, boots squelching a little in the muck produced by the evening’s rain showers. The Easterling made a face as he side-stepped a rather large puddle. Rain and cold. It all made up for more mud. No wonder everyone here was so filthy.

“Eh, what do you think, ko komat?” he asked as they came close to the stall. He eyed the shoes dubiously, ignoring the boot maker. “Anything catch your eye?”

Khiran looked over the strange assortment of footwear, recognisable for what it was though the style was so very different from Harad. Running his fingers over one pair, he moved on to another, then stopped at last by a pair of black leather boots that would come up to just over his knee. “These would be good in all these northern plants, to keep them off my legs,” he mused, picking one up and turning it over to examine the sole.

Htiet gave a small grunt of agreement, leaning over to inspect them too as the Corsair turned them over in his hands. They looked sturdy, the stitching strong and solid. The sole was nice and thick, reducing the likelihood of resoling too soon. That would cost money, money they did not need to spend. “Good for riding your horse too. The leather is tough but supple.” He took it between two fingers at the top to demonstrate, bending the back the top.

Khiran stopped and looked at Htiet. "Yes, about that," he said, setting the boot down for a moment. "I've never actually ridden a horse, see..." he admitted.

“Kai, man!” Htiet exclaimed, grinning at him. “Never ridden a horse? What did you do to get so far into the West then? Walk the entire way?”

“Of course I walked,” Khiran snorted. “There are no rivers that stretch from Harad to here.”

With a sharp bark of amusement Htiet threw back his head and laughed. “Ritsay, if I had to walk so sa kai far I’d need new boots too! No wonder you have holes in your soles. Bloody pirate. What kind of man walks instead of getting himself a horse? All the animals you see on that ship of yours are gulls and cats eh? Aiiii, what a joke! I cannot wait to see you get on this beast Scribe buys you.” Still chuckling he leant into the stall and waved a hand at the cobbler. “This man, never has he got on a horse. Soon he will be learning quick or be running to catch up.”

Behind the stall the owner, who before had been watching them with a guarded gaze, grinned. “Too bad for him. Most horses know how to get the better of inexperienced riders.”

“Kai, it is truth,” Htiet exclaimed, slapping his open palm onto the stall top. Turning back to Khiran the Easterling grinned. “He says ‘good luck’ to you, ko komat, with your horse.”

“Sa kai kenti... what do I care about that anyway? I need boots. What about the boots?” he said with a frustrated edge as he picked the pair of them up and shook them slightly as if to emphasise.

“Let’s find out eh? He says ‘how much?’” Htiet said to the cobbler, jerking his thumb at Khiran.

“They’re good boots,” the cobbler began. “7 coins for the quality of the leather and their height.” He patted above his knee.

Htiet gave a snort and turned to Khiran. “He says seven. Sa kai thief.”

“Ah, let the man get his price,” Khiran said as if humouring him. “I'm holding more money in this pouch than I've ever seen in my life.”

“Money you might need later,” Htiet replied before turning to the man. “We pay no more than this.” He held up three fingers and raised his eyebrows with a smile, daring him to negate.

“6 coins.”

“This much.” Four fingers.

“5, and no lower. Look at the quality of the sole, the workmanship. I made my fingers bleed with these boots.” The cobbler’s expression was honest, unpretentious.

“Good. A deal,” Htiet agreed after a moment’s pause. “Give him five. It is a fair price and he agrees.”

Khiran shrugged, seemingly untroubled by either the original price or the negotiated one. “He'll have to make change,” Khiran said, handing over one of the coins from the pouch.

The cobbler turned the coin over, gave a small grunt then turned to a small iron box placed upon a stool. Opening it he tossed the coin in and counted out the change in turn before handing it back to the Corsair. “May they serve you well,” he said with a nod towards the boots as he wiped his worn hands on his leather apron.

Htiet pressed the palm of his hand to his heart and bowed slightly before turning to Khiran. “Will you put them on now ko komat, or wait until we return?”

Shaking his head, he tucked them under his arm. “I want to wash my feet first. I don't want mud inside my new, clean boots; it is already filling these up again through the hole.”

“As you wish,” Htiet nodded, his gaze drifting over the crowd to search out the next place to stop. “Let’s move on then.” Together the two men wandered off, trailed now by a small group of curious children.
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Postby SilverScribe » Mon Jan 09, 2006 5:09 pm

She left the men to sort themselves out, and headed back to the rear entrance of the Lucky Fortune. Taking the back service stairs two at a time, she slipped into the narrow room and went to where she had draped her washing. The shirts were dry enough and she carefully rolled them, then set them aside. She then pulled out her journal and the well chewed pencil, settled one buttock onto a crate and flipping to the appropriate page, filled in the amount of the advance paid Khiran, next to his name, along with the balance owing.

When she had slipped the little journal back inside her vest, she went to the little cupboard and unlocking it, withdrew the small, iron bound box. She swiftly counted out the first half payment for Htiet and filled another small drawstring bag. She slipped the bag into a pocket then closed and locked the box and placed it into her pack, firmly padding it with the clean rolled shirts before she lightly refastened the pack, then re-locked the cupboard and pocketed the key. After a last glance around the room to ensure she had forgotten nothing, she slipped out and went back down the back stairs and into the kitchens.

One of the hobbits, inevitably a relation of one sort or another to Hobbituk, approached her while wiping his hands on a liberally food stained apron. "Ah, 'tis my bet that you're the one Hobbi calls the Scribe, what can we do for you?" he asked with a smile.

She returned the smile and dropped her pack onto a bench against one wall, under a window that looked out on the very meadow she had just returned from. It was empty, she assumed that Khiran was even now being escorted to the market by the others to get him equipped for the upcoming journey. She turned back to the hobbit and taking out her journal once more, listed off the brief list of supplies she had made. The hobbit scratched his curly head, but beamed just the same. "Oh, I'm sure we have all that, except for the flint an' steel. That, you may have to pick up at the market on your way out of town . . . "

"I will not be going that way Master Hobbit," she answered. He turned from one of the pantries, his hands full of various small sacks and packets wrapped in waxed linen. He named them off, along with their cost, as he placed them on the bench next to her pack, then dusted off his hands and regarded her solemnly. "Aaahhh, then you must be taking the road to Imladris," he said.

She tallied the amounts and fished out the proper coinage, dropping it into his outstretched hand with a wink. "Aye, I am indeed. No matter, the elves will have flint and steel aplenty, I can manage well enough until then."

The hobbit squinted out the window, the weak sun of the morning was slowly fading as the clouds that were gathered over the foothills to the east began to slide towards them. "I hope so Scribe, the farmers are all sayin' that the summat mild weather is about over, an' we'll be knee deep in snow before the week is out. Have a care, the road will be cold."

She smiled. "Just until we reach the heights," she reminded him, knowing that even though Lord Elrond and the Elven Rings had sailed West, the tempering magic of the Elves still kept the high places around Imladris in a warm, golden Autumn. He grinned back. "Aye, of course."

She rose and stowed the various sacks and packets in her pack, now re-fastening it securely for travel and shouldering it with a slight grunt.

"One last favour, Master Hobbit," she said. "Do you know if there are any horses here at the Inn for sale?"

The hobbit laughed. "Oh, no doubt of it. But they'll likely only be the lame and the old, y'know, them as can't serve any longer as either war or plow horse. Why?"

"One of my . . . company . . . is without a mount, and it will be too long a walk to Imladris without one," she answered simply. "If need be, even an old horse, as long as it's sound, will do just to get him as far as the Elvenhome."

"Ask Han, he'll likely be th' one to know," the hobbit answered. "Fair travels, Scribe," he finished, then waved and returned to his duties. Scribbles thanked him, then left and headed for the stables.

As predicted, there were very few horses that the Inn would, or even could, let go of. She carefully inspected the three that Han led out, the mare limped visibly and the dun gelding was so old and thin that he would surely snap a leg the first day out. The last, a roan gelding, was not quite as old, not yet swaybacked and still looked reasonably solid. It appeared that his greatest fault next to his age was that he was starting to go blind in one eye, apparently this made him somewhat fractious and short tempered. She grinned, doubtless the hot blooded Corsair could handle him anyway.

She bartered hard, she was not about to pay dearly for a beast that might soon end up food for the wolves. Han threw in worn but still servicable tack, though the saddle had definitely seen better days, the cinch strap boasted a good quality repair and the stirrups were still sound. Han prepared the roan while she saddled her own horse, strapped her pack behind the saddle and slipped her unstrung and hide-wrapped longbow through the carrying loops.

She was done with just over a half hour to spare. She decided to return to the Inn yard to rinse and re-fill her waterskin, then returned to the stable yard to await the rest.

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Frelga » Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:21 pm

As the two men faced each other in the meadow, Radesh stood beside Scribe. He expected a good show. The Easterling moved with a fluid grace that spoke of years of training and the Southron's bisen-to was not a weapon one carried just to impress the girls.

The rakyi's sing-song recitation caught Radesh off guard, the memory it called up so vivid it swallowed the real meadow in front of him. He remembered the melody - the same or one very like it, but carried by many throats to the rhythm of many marching feet on the stones. That chant was led by a clean-shaved man dressed in robes of fine silk. They sparkled like a flame on the tip of the hillman's arrow as the hunters took aim from behind the cover of large boulders up the slope for the Easterners. "Hidakh!" the soldiers called, once and twice. The third call echoed through the narrow valley, and drowned in shrieks of agony when arrows hit home.

"What do you think Radesh? A polearm against a scimitar, could you pick a victor?"

Scribe's voice came from far away as Radesh saw red silk swirl gracefully around the falling body. He shook himself up and focused on the two combatants. "It is too soon to tell," he replied after a few seconds, and then the intricate dance of two blades claimed his full attention. Without realizing it, the hillman concentrated on the Easterling as the potential opponent.

Soon Radesh saw what the answer to Scribe's question was likely to be. Skilled and eager though the Corsair was, he was no match for Htiet's experience. A pity, Radesh thought. It would do the rakyi good to learn a small lesson. His mood would be sour, but then he was likely to be insufferable anyway. Yet the speed, the precision of the Easterling's movements was so impressive that Radesh found himself swaying a little as he watched, in sympathy with the fighters. And when the scimitar struck home, the hillman let out a breath he didn't know he was holding.

"A good match," he said quietly, and Scribe agreed.

He waited out the exchange in Eastron and Haradric, sometimes catching a single word in the swarm of foreign sounds. The Corsair was an excellent fighter and it was no surprise that Scribe accepted his service. Just as well, or the Southron would probably freeze to death before another Westerner gave him a chance at earning his keep.

At last Scribe turned to him and he walked over to hear her instructions. "It is not yet midday. I would like to leave soon and make some miles before nightfall. We will meet in front of the stables, say, in just under two hours time, ready to ride."

He nodded and waited again for Scribe to translate to the others. He could use the two free hours, he thought as they talked. For one thing, it meant that he could start this journey clean and in fresh new clothes. He began walking toward the inn but reconsidered. Khiran would need to get his kit together from scratch and how was he to do that? Lack of Westron would not matter - the coins would speak for themselves - but what did the Corsair know about icy mountain trails? No more than Htiet, who had never even seen snow.

Radesh turned around to offer his help but Htiet already took Khiran by the shoulder, leading him to the inn. For a moment, the hillman considered going after them. Then he shrugged. If the two picked out the same gear as Scribe bought for Htiet, they wouldn't go far wrong, and Radesh had a fair inkling of how Htiet would take any advice he offered.

With a swish of his cloak Radesh crossed the yard and headed for the bathing rooms
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Postby Frelga » Thu Jan 12, 2006 12:46 am

OOC: Very sorry to reply to myself, but this post comes under "Anything for Scribbles" heading. :twisted: The poem is by Boris Grebenshchikov.

If Radesh agreed with Htiet on anything, it was the rakyi's low regard for a Westerner's cleanliness. The locals at the Forbidden Inn praised his skill as a hunter, but the hillman suspected that his luck was due simply to making sure that the deer couldn't smell him a mile off upwind. To his mind, the only way to get clean was good hot steam followed by a dip in cold water if there was no snow. Soaking in his own dirt and lukewarm water was a poor second choice, and he said so to Han.

"But Master Radesh," the young hobbit replied as he handed Radesh the key to the bathing room, "we have a steam room here, and a very proper one it is, I'm sure. You just say the word and I'll have it ready for you."

"Do you really?" Radesh broke into a wide grin. "Oh, bless you and this glorious inn of yours! I'll get it ready myself, only show me the way. And Han, be so kind and knock on the door in an hour or so. Scribe wants to leave before two hours are over."

Reassured that Han would keep the time, Radesh hurried off. The room was clean and well kept, as everything was in this inn. The floor and wall were paneled with cedar planks that gave off a fresh fragrance when steam filled the room.

Hot water washed off the dust of the road until his skin glowed like red gold. Sweet ache tingled in his ribs and shoulders as the heat loosened his muscles and seeped deeper. Radesh kneaded his left arm, raked with deep scars from the mangled hand to elbow. Old pains, old scars. A tale of war and captivity, cut and burned into his flesh until he looked like he'd been torn to pieces and put back together.

When Radesh first found himself in the plains he had been starved down to sharp bones with scarred hide stretched over them. But the Weatherhills had been good for him, providing him plenty of meat to eat in peace. By autumn he was in fine form. Lean, hard muscles rolled under his skin; his belly was flat, with two rows of "river boulders" as they were called in the Hills. He was ready for this journey.

He rested his head against the wall and let the cleansing sweat trickle down his face and chest. Time itself seemed tangled in the eddies of steam, brief time of waiting on the brink that seemed to last forever. If he was going on a Blood Hunt, then he would go like a hunter, cleansed and ready. His eyes half-closed, the hillman began to hum softly in his own language.


Seven arrows on seven winds
Bow braided out of grass and twigs.
He will come from far away
He will wield a sword of rain.


Radesh sighed as he got up, a little dizzy in the heat. How did he become tangled in Scribe's quest? A fine company they were going to be for him - the Corsair who was as good as a mute, a puffed-up soldier from the East, and an Elven sorceress who objected to being called a witch. Why was he going with them?

Because he wanted to. For once in his life, no duty bound him and he was free to do as he pleased. If he lived, he could ride up to his house, not stagger in like a weary beggar. And he would have a tale to tell such as the Hills never heard. A tale worthy a man whose deeds were a matter of song in the mountains.
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Postby SilverScribe » Fri Jan 13, 2006 10:22 pm

((OOC: My thanks to Frelga for that wonderful 'steamy', yet perfectly family friendly scene . . . LOL, all that was missing was the strawberry soap ;). Oh, and thanks also for Radesh's dialogue in this post . . . :D ))

IC:

The last half hour seemed to be crawling by, she came away from where she had been standing, leaning against the lintel of the stable door, and began to pace. Han was bustling back and forth and more than once, she nearly tripped over the diminutive hobbit as he went about his duties, whistling a merry tune and occasionally breaking into song.

Oh my love has eyes so very blue
her hair in ringlets falls,
If only I could win her true,
no more would lonliness call.

Oh my love has a smile so very bright,
it lights the darkest halls,
If only I could win her tonight,
no more would freedom call . . .


The song went on to extoll every possible virtue of the singers' true love, from the tip of her pert nose to the delicately formed toes on her admirably furry feet. Scribbles stopped pacing and applauded heartily when the song was over; Han blushed to the roots of his curly hair.

"A song always helps to make the work light an' the time pass," he offered with a shy grin. Scribbles nodded and then squinted up to where the sun was fading behind an increasingly cloudy sky. "Indeed Master Hobbit, and time is certainly passing. The day grows older and I grow impatient."

"Oh, the two ferinners are likely having a grand time at our little market, and the hillman is sure to be as near a steamed clam about now as . . ." Suddenly the hobbit's eyes grew very round. "Oh dear," he moaned. "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Dagnabbit, I'm sorry! It's my fault y'know Scribe, I was supposed to fetch the hillman a right good while back, but I plumb forgot with you wantin' to look at them horses and then getting' that old roan ready fer yer man there, an' then me wantin' to get those last stalls few stalls mucked out like I promised th' stable master an', an' . . . "

Scribbles chuckled and waved off the hobbit's apology. "No matter and no harm done Master Hobbit, even if you had fetched the hillman, we would still be waiting on the two 'foreigners' anyway," she said with a wink.

"Aye, but the hillman told me to come and knock him up a notice oh, I shouldha done that at least a half hour ago, he's gonna be right annoyed with me an' all . . . well, best I get his yellin' over an' done with now . . . " Han leaned his muck rake against the stable and reached back for the ties to his grime-smeared apron. Scribbles held up a hand and turned for the Inn. "Finish your tasks Master Hobbit, I will fetch the hillman."

***

She found the steam room with no trouble, she had made use of this room a few times herself when passing by on her way back up to Rhudaur. Stopping at the door, she rapped sharply a few times, then stepped back.

The door opened and a swirl of steam escaped. When it cleared, Scribbles arched one eyebrow at the sight of Radesh, his hair hanging in damp curls about his shoulders, standing in the doorway with one hand on the door handle and the other holding a thick towel wrapped about his middle.

"You will freeze to death if you travel like that," she offered dryly.

If it were a mortal woman who surprised him in the bathing room, Radesh would have been mortified. But Scribe, with her broadsword, her bitter coffee and ale for breakfast, was a creature of an entirely separate order. Still, the hillman's face, already flushed from the heat, turned an even darker shade of red. "Scribe?" he asked, his own eyebrows rising in surprise. "Is it time already?"

"Very close to," she replied, as she appraised him with a cool, clinical interest. He was in good physical condition, the hard road ahead would not trouble him. "Han sends his apologies, and I have to claim some part in him being late to call you. So I came myself . . . " she trailed off. The longer she kept him standing at the door, the longer it would delay their departure.

"Ah. Well then, I will be ready in two minutes," he replied. "I apologize for putting you to this trouble."

She shrugged. "It is no trouble Radesh. Just be sure to get as dry as possible, the weather looks to be turning cold."

"Yes, Scribe," Radesh replied and ducked his head to hide a small smile. "I will take care. Unlike Htiet, I have seen winter before."

She grinned broadly. "And I bet you know the best ways to stay warm in it as well," she replied, then turned away. "I will see you at the stables."

.
Last edited by SilverScribe on Mon Sep 03, 2007 9:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Jiyadan » Sat Jan 21, 2006 12:28 am

Despite Htiet's cautions, Khiran was feeling like a prince with a bottomless purse, yet the Easterling managed to keep the young Corsair's head, and purse, in check as they went on. Since Htiet did the bartering for him it was not a hard task to prevent him from overspending on the various articles he would need.

Some items that Khiran thought would be necessary, Htiet assured him would be useless, becoming water-logged in the snowy mountains and would most likely facilitate him freezing to death, rather. The Corsair did insist on buying two of the silk shirts, though they were not as fine of quality as he could have found at home. The weave was inferior and left the fabric more coarse than those of Harad. The layers would help insulate him, though, and besides, silk was silk.

Thick wool trousers and fur-lined deer hide to go over them would work well for his lower half, though it took some doing for Khiran to settle on a pair that would not cause him to itch excessively. The wool of the North was also inferior in feel to the soft camel hair of his homeland. He was grateful that the silk of his shirt would protect his upper body from the scratch wool of his tunic and cloak that Htiet found for him, similar to the one he had.

Soon after he had gloves of a soft, white leather - rabbit fur, the shop owner said - and fit his hands well. He was still able to maneuver his bisen-to with them on, though he sent a nervous ripple through the crowd. Htiet gave him an annoyed smack on his shoulder and brought his attention back to the man waiting to be paid. Khiran found a hat of the same soft leather also that covered the exposed skin of his head and down over his ears, paying for both as the man continued to eye his weapon warily.

When they reached the end of the market stalls, Khiran fidgeted somewhat with the bundles he was carrying and looked back down the street, wondering if there was anything more he would need. "A bath," he murmured.

"What's that, ko komat?"

"I said, I need a bath."

"Aye, as do I. The Scribe said two hours, we have a little over half an hour left. It will be a quick bath, but at least it will be warmer than the river were we caught you," Htiet said with a grin.

"Anything would be warmer than that!" Khiran snorted and looked back down the street. "Listen, I need to buy one more thing, why don't you go on and get the water hot and I will be right behind you?"

"What do I look like, your sa kai slave?"

Khiran blushed at that. "No, I meant.. I need to buy something alone. Just think, you will get longer in the hot water."

Htiet looked as though he were not convinced of the Corsair's ability to purchase without a translator but accepted anyway for he had little grounds to refuse.

"I will be right behind you, and I will stay out of trouble!"

"See you do," was the gruff reply.

Khiran watched him go for a moment, then headed towards the middle of the market where they had passed some fabric. It was difficult, but he managed to get across how much he wanted of each and got a few needles and thread thrown in also.

Satisfied and in high spirits, he headed back to the inn about ten minutes behind Htiet, finding him already soaking in a hot bath with another ready for him. He dropped his bundles on the floor and stripped in a flash, slipping into the hot water with a few protests as his cold skin burned but soon accepted the warmth that flooded him.

"You took too long. Now you have no time to enjoy the bath. We must be dressed and ready to go."

"Ahh, you are wrong! I will enjoy the bath even if it is short. I will be clean at the end of it!"

Htiet laughed his approval as Khiran quickly scrubbed away at the dirt on his body, particularly the mud that was still caked uncomfortably between his toes. He was a little upset he had no chance to rinse properly in clean water, but he was a great deal cleaner than he had been in some time and appreciated that.

Rushed by time, ten minutes saw the two foreigners dried, dressed and their things packed as they walked out of the room and made for the front yard of the inn to find the Scribe and at last be about this business.

Khiran barely gave a thought to the odd and secretive nature of the quest he had agreed to. He was proud to be following anyone with a connection to his Lords and his mind was busy with that rather than with the road before him. As they walked out into the yard and across to the stables, however, the daunting task of riding a horse loomed up before him.
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Postby Frelga » Sat Jan 21, 2006 12:59 am

Good as his word, Radesh appeared in the yard two minutes after Scribe left, wrapping his cloak about him. The new clothes trapped the heat of his body under cozy layers of silk and wool. His damp hair was pulled back off the temples, revealing a few strands of gray.

Han the Hobbit rushed over to his side. Skipping a little on one foot to keep up with the hillman's long stride, he launched into the long list of his chores that were to be his excuse for being late. Radesh waved away his flustered apologies with a grin.

"No harm done. If you could just fetch a mug of water for me, that would make it all right. Steam makes one thirsty."

The hobbit took off at a run, and hurried back with water, catching up with Radesh just as he was entering the stables.

"There you are. Here's your water, and I did better than that this time. I picked up some bread and a bit of cold meat for you, seeing as I made you late and Scribe is all ready to leave, lunchtime or no."

"Now that puts me in your debt, Master Han," the hillman replied with a broad smile. Having missed many meals over the past years, he learned to appreciate the hobbit's view of food. He drained the cool water in a few long swallows and returned the mug to the hobbit. "Do me another favor, though, and bring a snack for Scribe, would you?"

The hobbit scurried off again. Radesh bit off as big a chunk of bread as he could and headed for the stall where Archer the warhorse, named after his last master, snorted at him in greeting.
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