The Sea Wolves Book 2

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

Postby Impenitent » Sat Mar 13, 2004 8:14 am

Please do not post to this RP thread without first reading the story through and checking in to our <a href='http://www.tolkienonline.com/thewhitecouncil/messageview.cfm?catid=25&threadid=78924' target=_blank>OOC</a><BR><BR>---------------------<BR><BR>Our story begins in the south, just past the 900th year of the Fourth Age of Middle Earth. This is the Age of men. The eldar have faded or gone into the West; so few remain as wanderers and so diminished is their stature that the children of Men tell stories of them as fables. The haflings, too, have sunk into myth, isolated and forgotten in their little land but by the ancient law of the King, still none may seek them out. The dwarves have dwindled in number even as their suspicions of Men have grown. Many of their ancient skills are diminished but their settlements, hidden deep in the mountain ranges, have flourished with free trade. <BR><BR>The great powers, the Valar and their servants who had wandered through the land in the days of terror and unrest have withdrawn to the outer circles of the world, interfering no longer in the life of Middle Earth until the End. Equally, Mordor and its servants have crumbled to dust, are nothing more than old wives’ tales fit to tell children around campfires. True, a few scattered orcs remain, buried deep in their mountain warrens, fearful of light and discovery.<BR><BR>The world has changed and few but the lore-masters remember the great events of the War of the Ring, or of the last great alliance of all the free peoples. Mortal Men now inherit Middle Earth and the deep magic of Eru is forgotten, sunk far into the ground.<BR><BR>The descendants of Elessar rule Gondor in peace and prosperity. The King's Peace reigns and while the alliances, now ancient according to mortal years, have shifted they still hold and trade has flourished between the many Men of the north and south, east and west. Peace has sown a fat contentment with a life that changes little as the slow years roll. One year of sufficiency gives way to another, except when drought or flood or plague descend -- as they inevitably do and then pass.<BR><BR>Yet there are still those who wish for a freer life, away from the yoke of the King, his taxes and his laws, which control life and liberty both in the sleepy parochialism of the towns and villages and in the constricted, ordered life within city walls. And good fortune has not spread itself evenly. There are still orphans and the dispossessed, men and women whose pockets and larders are empty, who have slipped through the gaps of the King's wide net of prosperity. <BR><BR>And there are others, unsatisfied with the small, contented lives of their forebears who choose a vagabond path, the fugitives and outlaws making their living by their wits, seeking new horizons, new experiences and new fortune.<BR><BR>The most spirited of these, the most reckless or ruthless or desperate, hungry for adventure or wealth or a life of freedom, find their way to Umbar...to the ancient city of the Corsairs.<BR><BR>Ah! Umbar! Glittering in the blinding white sun, shimmering like an evanescent mirage in the hot, desert sands! Even now I smell the pungent melding of fragrances of spices and sweetmeats in its bazaars, hear the babble of a hundred tongues meeting in the bustling, colourful life of its kasbahs and alleys. In ancient days it was a festering wound in the side of the King and still it remains a hotbed of foment, of ideas and liberty. <BR><BR>Oh, there is trade in Umbar. The whole city is based on trade...trade of information, trade of goods, trade of people, trade of loyalties. It is a mighty city on the edge of the desert, lapped by a sea so blue it will stain your robes, surrounded by a great white wall of stone and supporting an impossible number of people within. It is a wild place of colour and life, of love, death and intrigue, where laws exist to be broken or bent where they are observed at all. But it is also a wonderful place, where anyone can succeed with a little luck, a little skill, and a deal of courage and spunk.<BR><BR>Most feared and yet most admired by the motley citizens of the city are the new Corsairs, the Sea Wolves. Gathered from the four winds of the mortal world to this place, they trust to luck and the traffic of the open seas for their fortune. Thieves? Highwaymen of the sea? Cutthroats? Yes, dangerous men and women and ruthless, but they are also freedom-lovers, often big-hearted and open-handed when luck smiles on them. A brotherhood that hunts as a pack, preying at need on the great sea trade of Middle Earth, giving their loyalties to each other, courageous--for cowards do not long survive amongst them--living by their own laws and code of honour. <BR><BR>Lately, their strength and swift ships have so threatened the King’s Peace that Elessar’s heir has ordered sorties against them – while the wily Governor of Umbar, ever desiring to consolidate his power, harbours a secret wish to bring them under his thumb. <BR><BR>Yet they evade capture; perhaps the vanished powers smile upon them from the West, for their secret harbours hidden on the myriad tiny islands in the archipelago of Umbar remain undiscovered. In those refuges they hold their ships and their illicit treasures, retreating there at times of threat.<BR><BR>But always and ever, their daily lives are played out in the riotous colour and chaos of their great city...for after all, it is their life, nourishing them and in turn sharing in their good fortune.<BR>
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Postby Impenitent » Sat Mar 13, 2004 8:16 am

Aviel breathed deeply as he strolled through this high quarter of the city where the cobbled paths were broader and the tinkling sound of playing water echoed from beyond the walled gardens of the noble and the wealthy. Now that the cool of the evening had descended with the setting of the sun, the scent of blossoms hung in the air and mingled with the faint salt smell carried on the sea breeze.<BR><BR>Passers-by occasionally turned to watch him, smiling and nodding their heads when they caught his eye. It was not just the grace and physique of the practiced athlete that drew their gaze. He had not stopped to change out of his costume after the performance and many recognised one of the chief of the accomplished troupe of acrobats currently residing in the city. A new entertainment always drew crowds and many of the population had marvelled at their acrobatic feats of daring over the past few days. <BR><BR>Avi smiled in return, canny to what was good for future business, his disarming grin revealing perfect white teeth, violet eyes playful with good humour, elaborate auburn moustaches and goatee adding to his roguish air. Aviel flirted with the women, yet managed not to alienate the men. An incorrigible charmer, he knew well how to please.<BR><BR>Perhaps, he thought ruefully, he ought to have taken the time to change into less conspicuous clothes, in view of his intended clandestine activities. In the showy white linen shirt with its flowing sleeves and fitted blue breeches – made more for show during performance than practicality – he was much too easy to pinpoint. He should have changed into the robes of the desert, worn by every fourth man in the city.<BR><BR>He was having second thoughts now that his blood cooled. The sensible thing was to return to their lodgings. Nectar’s dare had been more than half in jest, and while the two of them prided themselves in never standing down on a point of honour such as this, perhaps….<BR><BR>No. If he turned back now he’d never hear the end of it. Though in her heart of hearts his sister knew him to be the master thief – had he not taught her everything she knew? - Nectar would choke on her own tongue before she’d admit it. <BR><BR>No, he sighed inwardly, there was no turning back – his honour committed him to breaking into the Governor’s palace, somehow to steal the legendary Sea Star of Feanor. Well, that is to say, it was fabled to have been made by that great elven craftsman before the first dawn of the world and whether it was the truth or no made no difference to the difficulty presented in attempting to stealing it. Whoever its creator, the great white jewel with the violet blue fire at its heart was guarded well, as befitted the most valuable treasure of Umbar.<BR><BR>Aviel slowed as he reached the white walls of the palace where the heavily laden bough of a fig tree overhung the stone, loitering as if to enjoy the quiet cool of the evening and the first stars which twinkled in the darkened firmament. He waited until the path was momentarily empty of passers-by, then with an agile leap and flip, he was crouched atop the wall, hidden in the broad-leaved foliage twelve feet above where he had stood.<BR><BR>He sat quietly listening. Luck was with him: there were no guards nearby. He jumped gently, landing in the thick shadows beneath the tree. He made his slow and stealthy way towards the innermost courtyard. He stayed in the shadows, sometimes swinging up into the branches of the ancient trees that graced the palace gardens to float and somersault elegantly from limb to limb, tree to tree. Luck stayed with him for the sounds of his movements were disguised by the sea breeze in the branches and the tinkling music of the many fountains.<BR><BR>Well hidden in thick foliage, he waited quietly as two guards moved below him on the path, boasting of their luck at dice and their prowess with women. When they were well gone, he walked nimbly along the branch to its slender end, balancing easily as it moved with his weight, then poised himself, launched into a perfect high somersault and caught the edge of a balcony. The chamber within was dark and silent as Aviel slipped inside like a shadow. <BR><BR>Fortune did not desert him; he ducked out of sight of one guard as he made his way through the maze of corridors. Knowing he was close to the famous chamber, he peeked into rooms dark except for the moonlight that limned the luxurious furnishings and decorations. In one such room, inexplicably left unwatched just long enough, luck kissed him.<BR><BR>A faint blue flicker chased the shadows in a lofty audience chamber. The Star Chamber. He had heard that it was kept in a hexagonal cabinet much like a birdcage in the middle of the white tiled floor. Wrought of ebony and silver, the cabinet was a room within a room but without a door; only six intricately carved sides tall as three men and topped by a dome of thick curved silver bars. Impossible to move, neither could it be entered unless one was gifted with flight. The light of the Star shone through the carved peepholes in the bottom third of the cabinet so the jewel could be seen by all but not touched. It was safe on its satin cushion.<BR><BR>Except from an acrobat.<BR><BR>Aviel leapt lightly, flipped in mid-air to land elegantly on the dome. He explored the mechanism, finding the spring ludicrously easy to release and the bars swivelled out and up like a flower opening. So easy! Avi smiled as he launched himself up and over, somersaulting in mid air to land gently on the satin cushion next to the Star – and set off the trigger causing the spring to snap the dome shut above him. Captive as a singing bird.<BR><BR>Avi kept his head – if he got in, he would find a way to get out. In the meantime, the Star of the Sea was in his reach. Just as his hand closed around it, the doors to the chamber opened. Guards entered with oil lamps, secreted them about the room and retreated once more, leaving two figures alone. Thrusting the jewel into his belt, Aviel had dived beneath the cushion.<BR><BR>Hoping to evading discovery as long as possible, Avi remained still and allowed his ears to function. The Governor was holding secret court. Avi recognised the Governor’s voice but the other he could not place. Not surprising - he’d been in Umbar only a week - but the voice was compelling. Was it a woman or a man? Neither high enough for one nor deep enough for the other; husky, guarded, speaking only when necessary.<BR><BR>The conversation was intriguing; shocking; horrifying: the Governor would offer immunity for sins unspecified; further, he offered great wealth and finally, to close the bargain he offered the sure death of a rival. In return, the Governor required a crew – a secret crew, an efficient and ruthless crew – to harry and sink ships, to plunder the riches, to kill those on board – silent, merciless, anonymous, without discrimination – and lay the blame and the blood at the feet of the Brotherhood. The Sea Wolves would be shown to be monsters. The Governor, in despair and in pity, would institute emergency powers, taking the reins in his own hands to quell them once for all – the merchants would be grateful, the people would acclaim him with relief for succeeding where the King had failed…he would have Umbar for his own and his fist would close about it without mercy.<BR><BR>Hidden beneath the cushions, Aviel disbelieved his own ears. The Governor planned to usurp Umbar from Gondor, take it as his own fiefdom! Forgetting himself, Avi gasped. Unfortunately, the Governor had excellent hearing.<BR><BR>Suddenly aware that the blue flame of the jewel was not discernible through its cage, the Governor called his guards. Avi moved just as swiftly and much more gracefully. With an impossible leap he reached the spring trigger in the dome; somersaulted out, flipped over the obstacles in his way to the balcony, used his body as a missile to break the latch of the shutters and finally dove headlong out into the courtyard. His acrobatic skills both facilitated his desperate escape and sealed his fate for his identity as a member of the troupe was self-evident.<BR><BR>As he fled for his life in the chaos Aviel was aware of only two things: that the Governor had seen him and by the look on his face he would stop at nothing to see him dead; and that the secretive co-conspirator was even more deadly than the Governor!<BR>
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Postby Zafira » Sat Mar 13, 2004 3:56 pm

Zafira drifted aimlessly around her bedroom, boredom evident in every line and movement of her body. She picked up the many pretty trinkets in the room one by one and ran over the sources, this dish from the fat merchant from the furriers guild, the rare perfume that had been a gift from a Haradrim Emirs own hand, the pigeons blood ruby from the besotted young noble and, as she leaned against the wall softly, she had to acknowledge that even the house itself was a reward from the Gondorian Viceroy who had thought it would be enough to buy both her body and her loyalty. <BR><BR>Her small, full mouth formed a pettish moue, all this was all very well but she wanted more, something that she could truly call her own, earned by her wits rather than from the foolish men who thought she was up for sale. <BR><BR>A delicate cough sounded from the doorway and she turned to see Yusuf, her seneschal standing with his head bowed, waiting patiently for her to acknowledge him. Today even his serenity annoyed her. “Oh for Eru’s sake what is it now!”<BR><BR>The slave raised an eyebrow at her tone but walked calmly into the room before replying “My Lady, you have to attend court tonight for the official reception for the new Governor and you should be resting. Otherwise the famous Flower of the Desert will not bloom as she should” <BR><BR>The delicate flower gave a most indelicate snort in response “I’m more likely to wilt away from the tedium you fool! I swear I’ll go mad if I have to stay cooped up here for any longer! You have no idea how much I’m suffering!” That said Zafira threw herself down on the bed with a flurry of silk against silk.<BR><BR>Yusuf raised his other eyebrow to match the first and looked pointedly around the room, it was large, high ceilinged and airy, voile curtains billowed gently in the breeze, filtering the light to a soft glow that ensured its occupant always looked her best. The furnishings were all gilded and upholstered in Harad silk and the jewel box was left casually open on the dresser, its contents carelessly stuffed in like cheap baubles instead of priceless pearls and gem encrusted wonders they were “Yes my lady, I can see how awful things are for you” <BR><BR>Zafira studied his face for a hint of mockery and hissed at him in fury “Don’t think I won’t sell you! In fact I can’t think of a single reason I don’t take you to the bazaar right now and put you on the block, all you do is fuss and carp at me as if I was still a baby. If it wasn’t for the fact that you are so useless you wouldn’t fetch a single sul I would!”<BR><BR>A new thought flickered over her mobile face and suddenly she was wreathed in smiles “That’s it! Let’s go to the bazaar! I could certainly do with some new clothes and I’m sure you would welcome a rummage around for those dusty old books you are so fond of.” The spoiled imperious mistress was gone and in her place was the lovely woman that Yusuf had known and loved since she was born. He knew that he should say no, that the dangers of the lower city were too much in the intense heat, the dust storms may have stopped for the moment but they had left behind them the sullen resentment that they always did, her next words made it impossible for him though. “We could visit the Fountain of Nahlah on the way and make an offering for my mother.” It had been some weeks since they had visited the shrine and made an offering to the goddess of the desert people and Yusuf himself had felt the want. Captured as a boy by Zafira’s mother’s tribe he had soon turned to the new faith and as in the way of all converts he was as zealous as he could be in its observance.<BR><BR>He smiled back at her but added a condition, “Very well, but we must take Omar and the litter, I don’t want you jostled by the crowds”<BR><BR>A slight frown crossed Zafira’s brow, Omar was her bodyguard and he was a formidable fighter, but knowing him only briefly she could understand why he had been dismissed from the palace guard, he did not just enjoy battle as was right and proper in a man of Umbar, he relished killing more and needed little or no excuse to do so. But knowing that Yusuf would not stir from the house without him she nodded assent and began to drape herself with the gossamer shawls that would ensure she was not recognised.<BR><BR>Later, as the litter lurched down the narrow cobbled streets that led to the lower city, she threw off the stifling veil and peered through a small gap in the curtains. The city was teeming with life and Omar had to shoulder his horse through the pressing crowd to clear a way for her, she frowned at the aggressive way he was using his whip on those too slow to dodge out of the way regardless of age or infirmity, and decide that she must speak to Yusuf about his attitude, it could not be that his thuggery be associated in any way with her own name, she was the darling of the common people as well as the rich and did not intend to lose a shred of her influence with them.<BR><BR>A sudden stir from the crowd ahead of them diverted her attention, a platoon of the town guard were pushing their way through the crowded street with even more vigour than Omar. The bearers hastily moved to the side to let them pass, but Omar stood his ground, sneering at the young man that led them,<BR> “What’s the hurry Reggo? You got an urgent message to deliver for the third secretary to the second assistant to the least important official at court? Or are you lot actually earning your keep for once?”<BR><BR> His contempt for any group that had seen fit to dispense with his most excellent self was obvious, but despite the angry flush that flew to the lieutenant’s cheeks, he could not resist telling the story.<BR><BR>“The Sea Star has been stolen! Right from under the new Governor’s eyes too, from what we hear, and he’s fit to burst with anger!. We’re on the trail of the thief himself, Omar Kotaryen, so you best get out of our way, or I’ll have you for obstruction!”<BR><BR>As Omar grudgingly moved his horse aside, Zafira sat stunned inside her litter, why, this was excitement enough for anyone! Her mind whirling furiously she rapped on the side of the litter.<BR><BR>“Yusuf turn the litter round! Follow the guard, quickly now or we may loose them!”<BR><BR>
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Postby Errand » Tue Mar 16, 2004 7:09 pm

An evening breeze stirred Ashe's shabby gray and white robe, cooling his perspiring skin. The tall, young man sighed briefly in relief. It had been a long work day, catching various fish, eel and mussel. He was carrying two buckets of the stuff, filled with water plus a fish rack balanced on his shoulder. Not that he usually hauled in this much, but with a noble's gathering coming up soon, the demand for such delicacies of the sea surged and the profit was not to be missed. With everything he had caught, Ashe figured he might not need to work for another week. <BR><BR>Not that he had a whole lot to look forward to. Perhaps a game of dice, or a book he meant to catch up on. Or if things got too boring, there was always the carnival, if just for curiousity's sake. Nights would be the same as usual, getting pleasantly drunk and sleeping. <BR><BR><em>... nothing's changed.</em> Ashe thought to himself. He had been in Umbar for a year now, but never did he think he would settle. Not only was he not a native, but there was a restless nature about him that never allowed him to stay in one place for long. He supposed that was why he had become a sailor so long ago. But now, everday was slowly becoming no different from another until he began forgetting the date and month. He could feel the apathy, always strong to begin with, settle into his bones even as he settled into this desert city. Even worse, Ashe was beginning to get comfortable with it. This had never been his plan, but he never had one in the first place. Perhaps on a subconscious level he was waiting for something. A sign, an omen, or some other nonsense to set him into action. <BR><BR>Ashe snorted in contempt. He was still fairly young and the world wasn't going anywhere just yet. He didn't know exactly what he wanted from it anyway and no mystical herald was going to resolve that. Why, if it were that easy...<BR><BR>A figure in white raced past a majestic fountain and hurtled towards him. Anticipating the man, Ashe sidestepped to the right, but realized too late that the runner had also anticipated him in turn and sidestepped as well to avoid him. It was one of those cases when you walk up to someone and then attempt to pass him or her to the side, only to see the other person also attempt to pass you to the side, and thus you end up blocking each other's path again. Ashe cursed himself silently, two years ago he would never have been caught in such a foul-up, but a year of inaction had dulled his instincts. He had just enough time to drop the buckets to the ground before the man crashed into him at full speed. Ashe was knocked bodily off his feet and landed heavily on his back. <BR><BR>His mismatched eyes, green and amber, stared dully up at the starry night for a few seconds before he recovered himself. Shaking his head, he propped himself up and looked around. The man who had crashed into him had never fallen, having instanteously recovered. He wore flashy clothes of white and blue, but in the dark of the evening little else could be distinguished. <BR><BR>"What the hell's your rush, pal?" Ashe said, his voice slightly gravelly. "Damn near took my head off... "<BR><BR>He paused all of a sudden as his eyes spotted a glimmer of bright blue light next to him. Ashe grasped at it and discovered in his hands the Sea Star of Feanor. He knew it instinctively, though he had seen it but once and from a distance. Such was the name of the perfect jewel, rumored to have been created by the Eldar so long ago. It was a sizable crystal, a brilliant white hue in color. But from within, the "heart of the star" so to speak, blazed a blue that was so searingly beautiful, it was almost too much for the eyes. <BR><BR>Ashe's reverie was broken as several voices shouted at him. Up the road, dozens of armed men pointed at him and the man in white, then promptly came after them. <BR><BR><em>No wonder he's in a rush. He's a thief!</em> Ashe realized. <em>And they'll think I'm one too, holding the thing up like this.</em><BR><BR>But the man in white quickly took care of that problem by very deftly snatching up the jewel and running off at a break neck pace. He been so fast and subtle, Ashe had to take a moment for the action to sink in. The fisherman had begun to get up, only to hear the guards yell at him to stay still. This didn't look promising to Ashe. Although the jewel was clearly snatched from his hands, the men might still haul him off if just to satisfy their employer and report that he was a fellow culprit. If he protested, they could always say the other thief simply abandoned him when he fell. In general, thieves were not noted for excessive faithfullness anyway. From there they might employ various forms of torture to wring a confession out of him. Or rather they would <em>definitely</em> torture him since the jewel was the governor's. And that man, Ashe knew, was as vicious and vindicative as they came. Personal experience had taught him more than he cared to.<BR><BR>All things considered, things were looking bad to worse. Perhaps it was time for a new course. Ashe thought about it for half a second, watching the guards come trampling his way. <BR><BR><em>... ah, I did say I wanted an omen... </em> he decided. <em>And i do like it when it's lively.</em> He took a step forward.<BR><BR>"Stop! In name of governor!" someone shouted, in rough accented Westron.<BR><BR>Ashe walked over to the two buckets he had put down. Then, very casually, he gave a single swift kick that spilled their contents on the cobblestone path and ran for it. The guards could not halt in time and half of them slipped in the salt water, wet eels, and other marine life. Meanwhile, Ashe caught glimpses of the white garbed man and struggled to follow. As thieves went, he was faster than most, but Ashe could more or less keep up with him. Why he was following a thief being chased by the governor's men was a question he would deal with later. For now, the question was, who was faster tonight, the guards or the two men? Night birds fluttered and took to the air, wind rushed in their wakes, and the sullen moon shared its light silently, gazing down the midnight sea.
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Postby Impenitent » Thu Mar 18, 2004 3:37 am

Aviel fled. He ran, he leapt, he flipped over obstacles, he hurtled through the air to somersault and twist up walls, over roofs and balconies, around fountains and hidden corners, through the branches of trees, in through front doors and out through rear. He had soon left the Old Quarter behind – the Palace quarter – continuing through the maze of alleyways towards the crowded areas of the market square and kasbah – he’d be safer in the crowds that milled in the less salubrious areas. Avi ran until his muscles burned yet still he felt that the Palace Guard was on his tail.<BR><BR>Not far from the outskirts of the kasbah, he skidded around a majestic fountain, glimpsed a figure in his way, sidestepped to go around him but the man mirrored his action as sometimes occurs and they collided. The stranger went down flat on his back. Avi recovered his balance by converting the momentum into a back flip. Despite his desperate situation his first instinct was to check whether the man was okay, bending over him with concern. He noted the worn grey and white robe, the strong young body beneath it, the fish rack with its catch scattered on the cobblestones. After a stunned moment the man shook his head, propped himself up and looked around.<BR><BR><em>"What the hell's your rush, pal?"</em> the man asked, his voice slightly gravelly. <em>"Damn near took my head off... "</em><BR><BR>Avi, relieved the man had not taken serious hurt, grinned apologetically at him. He held out his hand to help the man up, but the stranger was distracted - his eyes were wide as he spotted the Sea Star that had fallen from Avi’s belt to land near his hand. He picked up the gem, mesmerised, until the cries of Avi’s pursuers got both their attention. Palace Guards – their distinctive black and red robes with gold touches were unmistakable. Without delay, Avi deftly snatched the Star from the man’s hand and took off again. <BR><BR><em> "Forgive my haste, friend!"</em> Avi yelled over his shoulder as he turned a corner. The stranger would have to fend for himself; besides, he would distract pursuit while the guards wasted time establishing that he was not the acrobat-thief they sought.<BR><BR>At the first likely balcony, he leaped to catch hold of the edge, swung up and over it, up again to the roof to slink like a cat amongst the tiles, down again to ground level to continue at a more sedate pace. He harvested a headcloth, a time-worn robe and old sash from various washing lines that criss-crossed the alleys to hide his distinctive costume, then swung up into the canopy of a thickly foliaged tree with his bundle to don his borrowed clothes out of sight. Wrapping the headcloth was always an intricate task that required some presence of mind.<BR><BR>Just as he’d finished he heard the familiar sound of pursuit. Climbing into the thickest part of the foliage, he peeked through the leaves to check the progress of the patrol – and to his surprise found that same patrol of Palace Guard were now chasing his fisherman acquaintance. The man was managing to stay ahead of his pursuers but only because the denizens of this quarter took quiet pleasure in frustrating the guards. Brazen in their distinctive black and red robes and headcloth which differentiated them from the Umbar constabulary, the Palace Guard was disliked due to its ruthless brutality and arrogance.<BR><BR>The pursued man was heading towards the shade tree in which the well-hidden Avi watched the proceedings. It stood in the middle of the small square, lit by the stars above, the oil lamps on the window sills and balconies, a couple of torches at the obligatory coffee and hookah stall. Men sat or stood in garrulous groups at their ease after a hot day’s work.<BR><BR>The fisherman seemed to be favouring one leg and Avi wondered with a pang of remorse whether it was in consequence of their earlier collision. He was slowing and only the surreptitious interference of the square’s habitues prevented his capture. Avi repositioned himself onto the lower limbs, about eight feet off the ground. He waited with concentrated attention, until the fleeing man was just beneath him, shot a quick glance towards his pursuers to check they were not in eyeshot, then launched himself. His legs wrapped around the limb of the tree, he swung down, grabbed the man firmly under the arms and swung up with him, dragging him onto the branch. While the man’s legs still dangled, Avi sprung to his feet with easy balance, squatted momentarily to grab the man again under the arms and with a grunt of effort lifted him as high as he could, hissing at him.<BR><BR><em> "Quick, man! Grab hold of the branch above you!"</em> The man did as he was told and started to haul himself up. Avi sprang lightly to catch hold, swung up easily and assisted his new acquaintance. With Avi’s whispered urging and occasional assistance, they made their way into the thicker foliage and finally seated themselves like small boys having a lark to watch. The Guardsmen were baffled and then angered by their quarry’s sudden disappearance, thanks to the silence of those who had witnessed its sudden ascent into the heavens. They were soon sent off down another alley with a false lead.<BR><BR>Avi smiled softly. There was something very satisfying about a population that sided with the pursued rather than the pursuer. He noticed his new acquaintance eyeing him curiously. Avi grinned his trademark grin and, once again, offered his hand.<BR><BR><em> "It may be time to learn one another’s names. I am Aviel, son of Khorva…"</em><BR><BR>--------------------------<BR><BR>They had come to an arrangement, he and Ashe. They had exchanged the perfunctory facts of their situation but, concurring that the top of a tree was no place to stop for lengthy explanations, they agreed to split up and make their separate ways to The Knotted Snake. They shook hands for luck, made their way down to the ground where the local men made a point of not seeing them and took off carefully in different directions.<BR><BR>--------------------------<BR><BR>Avi was not far from The Snake now and he hoped Ashe would also reach it. Every now and then a patrol of constabulary, led by one of the elite Palace Guard, would hurry around a corner behind or in front of him. He kept his head down, assuming a measured pace and merging with the groups around him and was immensely relieved that his borrowed plumage seemed to be doing its job. Around the corner from The Snake, the platoon of Palace Guard that he and Brand had tangled with came up behind him, brusquely pushed him aside – their quarry, had they only known! - as they hurried in their search for the acrobat-thief.<BR><BR>Following the constabulary came a lady’s litter, forcing Avi and other passers-by to back against a wall to make room for its passage. It was an elaborate concoction of gilt and ebony with fluttering, gauzy curtains, preceded by a large and evil-looking mounted bodyguard who seemed ready to wield a whip with little provocation. Another, following the litter, was almost elderly, a mild faced man who answered Avi’s curious gaze with an intelligent, quizzical expression of his own. Avi dropped his eyes, waited for the incongruous parade to pass him before turning the corner toward his destination, The Knotted Snake. <BR><BR>Even in his brief acquaintance with the city he knew that it was the only place in Umbar where the Palace Guards could not find him if the proprietor had decided he should not be found. The Knotted Snake’s connection with the Sea Wolves was common knowledge, even if no one dared to whisper confirmation. He began to relax. His face was softening into its customary, charming grin as he began to feel that perhaps he had succeeded in out-running the guards. He was looking down, adjusting the sash that had come loose when he bumped into a brick wall of a man. He looked up apologetically -- into the face of a Palace Guardsman.<BR><BR>Shocked recognition registered on both faces – by a twist of fate the Guard must have been in the Star Chamber at the critical moment. Avi’s practised reflexes sprang into action more quickly than the Guard’s. He flipped backwards, landing on his feet to raced back the way he had come around the corner. Behind him, he heard the Guardsman calling his men to come out of The Snake, where they had experienced the customary frustration meted out to the Governor’s henchmen.<BR><BR>Dodging the groups of passers-by, leaping over a pack of street dogs, Avi raced desperately. Ahead, he could see the litter and he knew in front of it was the patrol that had pushed past him before; behind came the Palace Guardsman with his men; in between, the path was hedged in by walls without openings – too high even for Avi to scale with surety. Besides, he needed to disappear quickly and entirely, not put on a show of scaling the wall.<BR><BR>Trapped between the two! Except, there was the litter…Avi sprinted, launched himself up and forward, arranging himself in mid-air so he would land face-down on the roof of the elaborate concoction – hopefully out of sight.<BR><BR>But there was no roof. The top of the litter was a tent of silky gauze upholstering the gilt and ebony frame and providing its occupant with as much ventilation as possible. Avi’s weight brought the silky fabric down with him as he disappeared from view into the luxuriously cushioned interior and landed face-down into a perfumed, soft, silk-clad lap. Avi groaned; and he had thought that fortune was with him this evening!<BR>.<BR>He looked up warily into the startled face of a very pretty woman – or girl, actually – black-haired and black-eyed, her lovely mouth opened in an astonished "O" of surprise. Before she could react, Avi clapped his hand over her mouth, schooled his handsome face into an expression of besotted beatitude and whispered in longing and urgent tones.<BR><BR><em> "Ahhh, please, my lady! Grant me but a moment to worship at the feet of thy beauty and I would gladly give up my life thereafter as entirely fulfilled."</em><BR><BR>It was a line he’d used before, but the woman was not to know that. The girl blinked, shot him a piercing look and then one lovely eyebrow arched up slowly and elegantly. She was obviously not convinced but the tension in her had relaxed at least. So far, so good. Watching her carefully with quizzical eyes, he slowly removed his hands from her, held them up as if in surrender then bowed his head before her.<BR><BR>She took her time responding, first carefully inspecting his appearance – his headcloth was unwinding, revealing his hair and the robe had come apart so his showy costume was clearly visible beneath the shabby camouflage. Her tone was heated and haughty.<BR><BR><em> "You expect me to believe that you intruded on me in this unexpected manner, out here in the streets – and causing untold damage to my litter – so you could worship at my feet?" </em> She paused to take a deep, dramatic breath, causing a delightful flutter at her bosom. <em> "You’ll have to do better than that!"</em><BR><BR>There was no doubt he’d fallen in with – or rather, on top of – a fiery female but he detected a tone of amusement behind her feistiness. Hesitating for just a moment, Avi decided to see how far playfulness would take him. As if wounded to the death, his hands grasped at his heart while he continued in mock-mournfulness, still keeping his voice low, tragic violet eyes directed at the heavens in supplication.<BR><BR><em> "Alas! Canst thou not fathom the depth of my adoration of thee? How I have worshipped thee from afar, desiring only to breathe the same air as thee, to be in the presence of thine eyes…how my soul has burned within me…"</em> He cocked an eye in her direction, noticing with alarm that the girl slowly folded her arms across her chest in blatant disbelief and impatience, one eyebrow arched, her lips curved into a mocking smile. Avi dropped the act immediately.<BR><BR><em> "Okay…the truth is that the Palace Guard are after me, and not because they want to buy me a glass of râka. There’s a platoon in front of us, a platoon behind us…and I don’t know how many more across the city. And…the Governor has a personal grudge against me." </em> <BR><BR>The girl’s response was immediate. She dropped her hands into her lap, her eyes sparkling, face alive with excitement. <em> "I knew it! You’re the one who stole the Star of the Sea from under the Governor’s nose, aren’t you!</em> Realising her poise had slipped, she sat up straight again, her voice adopting an imperious tone as she held out her hand grandly in front of him. <em> "Show it to me!" </em><BR><BR>Avi brought the gem out from his belt, placing it in her hands. He made a show of reluctance, though he had to bite his lips to prevent a smile. So, he thought, she wanted excitement and adventure, not a love-bitten admirer! She was delightful, and perhaps if he told her the truth – or a version of it – she may even be sympathetic.<BR><BR>If luck would only smile on him now, he would still manage to get to The Knotted Snake where he hoped Nectar – and Ashe – would be waiting.<BR>
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Postby Errand » Thu Mar 18, 2004 6:42 pm

Ashe <em>had</em> desired an omen. He <em>did</em> like it when things were lively. Just the same, the events of the night, thus far, gave him an uneasy feeling. Just half an hour ago he had crashed into a thief, beheld the Sea Star of Feanor, hindered several palace guards, and was then chased by them. <BR>Lively indeed. At the last, the thief had returned the favor by helping Ashe up a tree when the pursuit got too close. All Aviel could say was that it was indeed he who stole the precious jewel and that he had found more, much more, than he had bargained for. What that was exactly would apparently have to wait, and he didn't like not knowing. <BR><BR><em>Of course he's gotta leave me hanging.</em> Ashe thought. <em>And now I gotta meet him in the snake pit.</em><BR><BR>The snake pit, or Knotted Snake as it was generally called, was a tavern near Umbar's harbor areas. The proprietor there was a wolf sympathizer and rumored to have been one himself. It would not have been a far stretch to imagine that drinks weren't the only business the man was involved in. Ashe had went there now and then for news about the latest events but he was no regular. He shook his head, breifly wondering if the fall had caused him some serious injury. Here he was, helping out a thief and in turn risking the wrath of the governor. Now he would have to meet Aviel, a man he knew next to nothing of, in order to learn... well... <em>something</em>. <BR><BR><em>Yeah, definitely hit my head too hard. But hell, it's not like I can ignore that rock... or that damn governor.</em><BR><BR>The governor and the jewel, the two figured greatly in Ashe's mind. Perhaps he was grasping at straws, but he was hoping Aviel had something he could use. Consciously, Ashe had come to Umbar because he thought of it as a temporary hiding place. Oh he'd stay there a couple of months, then set off once more. But unconsciously he was here to settle some matters. To put things to rest. But what to do and how to go about it had been ideas too elusive for him at the time. Eventually, the days became weeks, the weeks became months, as he waited and waited for something. <BR><BR>Something.<BR><BR>Late night was setting in and workers got off shift, heading for taverns and pleasure houses. It was the time for ladies of the night to ply their trade and for thieves to begin their own particular business. Oh yes, Umbar was a whole new world under the cover of the dark. Tantalizing sounds emnated from just out of sight, a voice whispering sweet promises, a silk robe sliding off smooth skin. Forbidden secrets and exotic pleasures were to be had if one knew where to look. If not, they might hear and see other things. Perhaps the <em>snick!</em> of a knife in the dark. Or a thin stream of blood leaking from a shaded alley. In the Umbar of night, nothing was certain. <BR><BR>Ashe yawned mightily. A few delicate fingers touched his lips lightly.<BR><BR>"My, my. You look bored."<BR><BR>Soft silk whispered as the woman in front of him removed her hood, revealing a pretty, heart shaped face. Her eyes and hair were brown, her skin smooth and unblemished but for a beauty mark near the mouth. <BR><BR>She smiled, noting his attention. "Do you like what you see?" she whispered. Oh, she was a bold one!<BR><BR>"Yeah." Ashe answered, looking at her impassively. "Shame I got something else to do."<BR><BR>Or rather, not interested. The woman figured he was flat broke (which coincidentally was true) , turned and left with a last, hopeful glance.<BR><BR>Ashe moved on unperturbed. When you got around the harbor area, certain things are expected, after all. He finally found the Knotted Snake and went inside. <BR>
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Postby Tobias_Red-tail » Fri Mar 19, 2004 8:22 am

The atmosphere inside The Knotted Snake was in accord with the decay and rubble that marked the place outside. The cafe part of the building was a single open room with a long bar that ran the length of one wall, defensively positioned in the rear, directly across from the door. A staircase rose up from the side of the bar to the structure’s second level, a staircase more often used by the painted, overperfumed women who sat around the bar and their latest companions, rather than by the guests of the inn. More than anything else, though, the tavern was a room of the senses, with myriad sights and smells. The aroma of coffee permeated every corner. A haze of smoke from exotic pipeweeds, like mist, blurred the cafe, impoverished nobles mixed freely with thieves who had suffered the punishment of having their fingers shattered to prevent them from repeating the offence, and young runaways from all walks of life bumped shoulders with the seasoned Corsair captains that came to the place to recruit new members for their crew to replace those who had lost their lives in raids. In the back was the room called the Snake Pit, the chosen place of gathering for the less salubrious clientele. Local wisdom had it that The Knotted Snake wove one of the best tapestries of Umbar as a visitor was likely to get: A chaotic tapestry of splendor and squalor. <BR><BR>The door swung open, revealing five young people, all good-looking and clad in the latest fashions of the west, the youngest being a girl of about sixteen, and the oldest, a young man of about twenty-eight. A glance was sufficient to tell most that they were all experienced swordsmen despite their youth, from the graceful way they carried themselves. The barkeep rose to greet them, escorting them to the Snake Pit, where he personally placed the Snake's trademark exquisite cups filled with the most expensive of his coffees before them, and the five took their seats. Minutes later, one of them excused himself, joining a few of the abovementioned ladies at their place at the bar. The girl shook her head of ebon waves, grinning wryly.<BR><BR>"Jorael’s as popular as ever with the ladies, isn’t he?"<BR><BR>"Indeed. Is our queen of ice finally feeling jealousy?" The second speaker was a young man who had already started on his third glass of wine, with green eyes like a cat’s.<BR><BR>"Keep your thoughts to yourself Sachairi. It’s none of your concern."<BR><BR>"Oh, touché. Look Kyren, I’ve hit Eterne’s sore spot."<BR><BR>But he might as well have been talking to a wall, for the person in question, Kyren, was staring into space with eyes the color of Umbar’s sky, stuck in his own world.<BR><BR>"Kyren?"<BR><BR>Sachairi waved his hands in Kyren’s face, until the younger lad turned around to regard him quizzically.<BR><BR>"Yes?"<BR><BR>"Forget it. Zequiel, I wonder where in the Middle-Earth you found this dreamer."<BR><BR>"He’s good enough in a fight, so let him live his daydreams." Zequiel brushed his hair, once dark brown, but now bleached to a lighter shade, out of his eyes.<BR><BR>All of a sudden, the cheerful cacophony of voices were cut off, as a score of men entered the Knotted Snake, clad in the colors of the Palace guards, every pair of eyes in the inn turned a hostile stare onto the guards, and more than a few hands reached for the weapons at their sides. The barkeep glared at them over his counter, before wiping his hand on a grimy cloth, and strolled out to meet the unexpected visitors. Tension began to tingle in he air, and the ladies on Jorael’s lap straightened and seemed to disappear. The portly innkeeper eying the tall, muscular palace guard would have seemed comical in any other situation, but not now. The palace guard easily sidestepped him, and suddenly clamped a hand down on Zequiel’s shoulder. An angry buzzing began; Sachairi shot up, sending the stool he was sitting on skittering away, and banging into a nearby table, sending a few glasses crashing to the wooden floor. An axe lay in his grip, the huge weapon providing a stark contrast to his wiry frame.<BR><BR>Before he could swing the heavy weapon and decapitate the guard, however, Eterne, who had been watching everything with eyes the gray of a winter sky, and Kyren, who had not even realized anything had happened until then. Together they forced him back into another seat, while their fingers coiled around the hilts of their swords. Jorael sidled over from his bench, and joined them; his fingers ready to draw his blade too. All this while, Zequiel never flinched, only gradually turned his head to regard the palace guard with a grave stare.<BR><BR>"Get your paws off my shirt."<BR><BR>"Is that a challenge?"<BR><BR>"Leave me alone." The voice that spoke was as cold as ice, the very opposite of his jovial tone while talking to Sachairi.<BR><BR>Around him, the sounds of chairs being scraped backwards formed a rumble of discontent, and clicks could be heard as blades were pushed out of their scabbards to make drawing them easier. The man tenses, as did his company, and promptly released Zequiel. The young man dusted himself off, before asking.<BR><BR>"What do you want?"<BR><BR>"The Star of the Sea."<BR><BR>The look Zequiel gave him was one of true bafflement, followed by another look of realization.<BR><BR>"What--? That legendary jewel, supposedly forged by one of those creatures that have disappeared…Elves, is it?"<BR><BR>"Don’t play dumb with me Zequiel. You have a stake in every last crime committed in this city within the past ten odd years."<BR><BR>"I did not steal your precious Star of the Sea. First and foremost, I have absolutely no use for such a trinket, no matter how pretty. Even for decoration, I have better things in mind than a treasure that would drag down the entire force of guards upon me."<BR><BR>The guard stared at Zequiel, trying hard to decide if he was telling the truth.<BR><BR>"If you won’t believe my words, would you like to search me then?" The words were delivered in all sincerity, but with an evident trace of contempt.<BR><BR>The man spared a glance at those who seemed more than ready to draw their weapons and take on him and his men, and decided that he’d better leave.<BR><BR>Once the guards were out of the way, the barkeep made his way to Zequiel, and informed him.<BR><BR>"Your man just shattered six glasses, and so you owe me… twelve copper coins."<BR><BR>The simple sentence diffused all the accumulated tension, and laughter echoed in the silent room. Sachairi stood up once again, this time careful of the force he used, and began protesting over the cost. Yet although the tension had dissipated for now, Zequiel rested his chin in his palm, tapping his fingers against his cheek, wondering who had dared to steal the Star of the Sea from under the Governor’s very nose. Eterne, who seemed to possess the uncanny ability to read his feelings, murmured.<BR><BR>"Who would do such a bold thing? The jewel is worthless, near impossible to sell, for it is all too distinctive. An overzealous collector of such curious artifacts, perhaps, or just someone who did it when the fancy struck him."
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Postby Impenitent » Mon Mar 22, 2004 4:33 am

They had been in Umbar only a week yet Nectar felt she was at home. She had been brought up according to the ancient desert tradition, never staying in one place for long, with no home other than the tent – or in this case, the caravan - in which she slept. The troupe’s current habitation, the three rooms they had taken in Kherti’s maze of courts behind the kasbah, had been such a novelty to her that for the first few nights she had not been able to sleep indoors. She’d had to move her bedding to the covered terrace just beyond the arches of her bedroom so she could feel the movement of the breezes. But in all other ways, Umbar was a revelation, a dream come true! The crowds, the colours, the smells, the excitement heated her blood til she was fit to burst. She felt free in this city – and there was also the sea, which drew her very soul.<BR><BR>In a moment she would be on her way to The Knotted Snake to meet her brother. They had returned to their lodgings to eat after their successful performance that afternoon in the central market square of the sucq. Successful as judged not only by the substantial tokens of appreciation showered upon them by the crowds but also by the acclaim of the jaded inhabitants of this city.<BR><BR>Nectar had changed out of her costume – filmy garments of sheer diaphanous silk, the pantaloons fixed at her hips with a fine tied girdle and matching bustier hung with tiny faux gems. When she performed the blue of the floating silk against the blue of the sky added to the dreamlike quality of her performance. She seemed a creature of air, to fly effortlessly like a bird when she performed. But away from the stage, in it she looked the prize specimen of a grand vizier’s harem and she had quickly learned that in the crowded anonymity of the city it was dangerous to walk about thus. Besides, the leering male attention was tedious.<BR><BR>She was now attired as befitted a modest woman, in the layered cotton veils and dress, decorated with the tiny gilt coin trinkets that marked her as an unmarried desert woman. A careful eye would note that the fabric was brilliant white rather than cream, the weave much finer than a tribeswoman would consider practical for workaday life, the fabric lighter and more generously flowing. Nectar’s tastes leaned to the beautiful and delicate.<BR><BR><em> “Basri, I’m going now – I’ve arranged to meet Avi at The Knotted Snake. Now, don’t fuss and worry! You know that decent people go there all the time! It has the finest coffee in the city – and the grand coffee service there is unparalleled, you said so yourself.” </em><BR><BR>Basri’s gruff bass rumbled in reply. The eldest of her adopted ‘uncles’, Basri had from the beginning taken to heart his role of guardian, though it went against the grain of his easy nature and usually he indulged her impetuosity. But she was a woman now; at 20, well into her marriageable years, and if she was to find a husband worthy of her it was time she acted with appropriate maidenly decorum.<BR><BR><em> “Nadira, the stars are already up! What are you two up to in the night hours? You know that in this city they still hang thieves? Is it not enough that we still fear for the gems you garnered from the kasbah – and then lost?” </em> He sighed. Basri had never countenanced their game of thievery and he was constantly exasperated by his inability to stop their dangerous tempting of fate.<BR><BR>Nectar smiled at him, leaning in to peck his cheek. <em> “You worry too much. We are simply meeting to enjoy the evening and the coffee service.”</em> Basri grunted again and watched her depart. <BR><BR>She said nothing of her jesting dare that Aviel should steal the fabled Star of the Sea if he wanted her to acknowledge him as her master in the game. But surely, Aviel would not act on such a foolish dare? She bit her lip as she walked – she knew well that in his shoes she would take the dare or die in the attempt.<BR> <BR>The cooling night breezes had not yet made their way into the tangled maze of footpaths in this part of the city. Nectar felt stifled in her layers but was distracted more by the hurrying of the crowds. There seemed an atmosphere of nervous tension amongst the passers-by and there were huddled groups talking with great animation in the middle of the path. Several times she saw patrols of the city constabulary hurry as if in chase. Once she was brusquely pushed to the wall as a patrol of the Palace Guard – the elite and indulged lackeys of the Governor – hurried past her, snarling.<BR><BR>Her curiosity piqued, she approached a group of men to ask what was causing the excitement on the streets. So involved were they in their conversation it took a while to get their attention.<BR><BR><em>”The Governor’s Palace has been penetrated! A daring thief has got past all the guards and stolen the Star of the Sea! They say he was no ordinary thief; they say that he flew in through the windows like a bird! And now the Governor has put a price on his head.”</em><BR> <BR>Nectar blanched, supporting herself for a moment with her hand on the man’s arm until she could regain her balance and presence of mind.<BR><BR><em>”Are you well, sister? You seem pale…”</em><BR><BR><em>” Oh, it is nothing…just the heat. I must go…no, really, I am meeting my brother in The Knotted Snake…I’m nearly there, thank you….”</em><BR><BR>Aviel had taken on her challenge! How foolish! How brazen! How brave! Despite her shock and fear for him, she smiled widely at the thought that he had succeeded in so impossible a theft. But…he may have escaped with the jewel, would he escape with his life?<BR><BR>She hurriedly wove her way through the noise and pungent fragrances of the market place – did the markets of Umbar never close, she wondered? The crowd seemed only a little less dense than during the day although the nature of the goods differed and there were more musicians. The white terraces of The Knotted Snake were visible at the far end of the square, with its huge bronze plaque of an intricately woven and knotted snake above the main arched doors. <BR><BR>The Knotted Snake was a decent enough establishment – at least, its large and airy front rooms with the upper story terraces fronting the kasbah were considered acceptable by all but the most prudish of the city’s matrons. It was situated, to its great good fortune, on the edge of the main square of the kasbah on the principle footway leading there from the wharves. Consequently, the vivid silks and fine linen of the well-heeled mingled with the less than sartorial splendour of its more disreputable clientele. For the most part, however, the denizens of Umbar preferred the dark and smokey atmosphere of the secluded back tavern – the Snake Pit. Quite a number of inconspicuous doors in the malodorous back alleys led to this den of thieves through a labyrinth of corridors.<BR><BR>The secret to the Snake’s broad popularity amongst the moneyed and the titled went beyond the fortuitous location; it lay in the traditional, elaborate desert coffee service offered uniquely by the host. The Knotted Snake was the only coffeehouse in the city which still maintained this once renown Umbar tradition—importing the best beans from distant lands, roasting them with bitter desert spices, and brewed black and thick, served in the traditional swan-necked silver-filigree urns, accompanied by iced rose-water, sugar cubes and tantalising, exquisite sweetmeats. Travellers made it a point to visit the Snake, and travellers to Umbar were numerous. “Once tasted, never bettered” was the motto and Snake clientele were loyal and enthusiastic.<BR><BR>Other establishments had given up this elaborate tradition as too time consuming and far too costly, as the elegant filigree urns and the tiny matching cups were regularly souvenired by clients. But the Knotted Snake seemed somehow immune to the thievery. Perhaps the well-known fact that the proprietor had reliable and close connections amongst the Sea Wolves acted as a brake. Thick as thieves, as they say.<BR><BR>At this time of the evening, the Snake was ablaze with light, with oil lanterns hanging from the bronze hooks beneath all the terraces and from large fittings in the ceilings of the airy rooms. Nectar walked up the three shallow steps that separated it from the bustle of the kasbah onto the terrace and stepped through the arches into the bustle of the coffee palace.<BR><BR>Huge violet eyes outlined with kohl opened wide as she scanned the rooms with veiled anxiety to see if her brother had found his way here. She couldn’t see him. She sighed, then dropped her veils from her head, shaking back thick, auburn hair tied back carelessly and already coming down in long wavy tresses down her back. <BR><BR>She walked slowly between the tables amongst the hum of conversation and tinkle of silver towards the darker alcoves at the back, to see if Avi had chosen a more secluded seat. Some of the alcoves were closed off with light hangings to provide the clients within them with some privacy and as she approached them one of the waiting staff intervened to ensure she did not intrude.<BR><BR><em>”Are you seeking friends? I am Ovar and it would be my pleasure to assist you in finding them. Or perhaps you wish for a quiet table for yourself?”</em><BR><BR><em>”Thank you Ovar …yes, I am to meet my brother here. He said he would come but it seems he has not yet arrived. Perhaps, if you provide me with a small table in one of the corners where I could see the doors I can watch for him and…in the mean time, I can enjoy a full coffee service.”</em><BR><BR>Nectar smiled at him, a cheeky, twinkling, gracious, irresistible smile that began at her eyes and enlivened her face. Generous lips curled to reveal pearly white teeth, causing a tiny dimple in her right cheek. It was a warm, charming smile that won over the heart and if Ovar had felt any resistance it would not have held against it. Ovar bowed courteously and showed her to one of the best tables the Snake could boast – opposite the door, tucked into its own alcove but a little darker than most because it was in the shade of a pillar. She made herself comfortable on the deep cushions that surrounded the table, leaning back into the comfort of the rich upholstery. Ovar hurried away, busying himself in preparing the grand service for the lovely girl in the corner.<BR><BR>Nectar put her veils down on the cushions next to her and gave herself over to watching the door, scanning the crowd and containing the growing anxiety that Aviel had bitten off more than they could chew. He’d said he’d meet her here and he never broke his word to her if he could help it. Where was he?
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Postby JasonChase » Mon Mar 22, 2004 5:02 am

"Surely you jest?" Azul responded to the very large man that had just entered his dining room.<BR><BR>The large man shook his head, a smile on his face, happy that his master, more accuratly his employer was not cross with him for interrupting his meal.<BR>"I swear to it sir. The Star of the Sea HAS been taken from the new govener."<BR>The large mans voice very echoing loudly off the walls in the large, finely decorated dining hall.<BR><BR>Azul was silent. He licked his lips. His eyes darting around the room. Taking in the dishes, the food, the tapestries, paintings and vases.<BR><BR>"Assuming the new governer didn't do something with it himself. To what ends I don't know. But assuming this is not a scheme on his part..."<BR><BR>"I'm sure it's not sir. The person I heard..."<BR><BR>His voice dropped off as Azul glared at him for interrupting. <BR>Azul reached down and grabbed his goblet, calmly bringing it to his lips. He tilted first the goblet back...then his head...and drained the contents.<BR><BR>Without warning Azul cocked his arm back and threw the goblet. It spun, end over end. And it's target, the large man, whom for a split second considered ducking, but thought better of it as it would just infuriate his lord more.<BR>The goblet collided with the mans upper chest, missing his chin by only an inch and clanked to the floor.<BR><BR>"Assuming..." Azul continued, "That this is not a scheme of our new governers. Whomever stole it is a fool."<BR><BR>The big man looked at him questioningly.<BR><BR>"Kronk. Simpleton. Think about it. There isn't anyone here in Umbar that would buy the Star. Most couldn't afford it. And those that could, would know better than to do that, infact, if they had any wit about them they would turn over whomever was trying to sell it and win favor with the new governer."<BR><BR>A determined smile crossing Azuls face...<BR><BR>"So that leaves taking the Star somewhere else. Which means, most likely, a ship."<BR><BR>A moment of silence as Azul grabbed a piece of fruit and plopped it into his mouth. After swallowing...<BR><BR>"Kronk. Go the docks. Announce that my cargo ship will be leaving port...at dawn. Investigate anyone looking to book passage or join up with the crew. IF someone is foolish enough to mention or SHOW the Star of the Sea...dispatch a messanger straight away to me and do not let that person out of your sights."<BR><BR>Kronk turned and exited immediatly. And Azul simply reclined into his chair. Smiling, thinking how interesting this could turn out. He had been worried about this new governor, but now, if fate smiled on him. He and the governer would become fast friends.<BR><BR>
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Postby GlassHouse » Mon Mar 22, 2004 4:29 pm

Brandir made his way through the crush of people, cattle and crude shelters that was Misr al-Fustat, (a Haradrim word that literally translated as "settlement of tents" ). The jumble of tents and run down shelters huddled, as if for protection, under the massive white walls and right up to the great iron gates of the city of Umbar. It was, as always, mosaic of contradictions. Part slum and part marketplace. A home for the homeless and haven for refugees and a port for the countless caravans that came overland through the desert, from starnge lands far in the East. In places it was filthy and forlorn and yet in other places it was a vibrant place and full of life.<BR> <BR>To his left, beyond the sprawling confusion of al-Fustat, he could see the immeasurable desert, stretching out forever so that the land seemed to have no clear ending place but simply faded away into a dusty brown sky at the limit of his vision. As far as the edge of the world, it seemed. <BR>To his right lay a river, a half a day's walk from where he stood on this side of the city. He could trace the line of lusher vegetation that marked its course through the wealthier sections of Umbar. His eyes followed the green line as it fell swiftly down and into the great harbor that lay directly before him, The Havens of Umbar. In the Havens he could see the scores of ships that lay at anchor, preparing to set sail and carry the people and trade of the realm and of all free men, to the ports of exotic lands. <BR>Beyond the harbor lay the great Bay of Befalas and beyond that the open sea. The sea marked the opposite edge of the world from the desert. It's waters refracting the Umbarian sun as it sank towards the horizon. By the time it's red disk hit the water, the entire western sky was ablaze. It was an incredible sight. He would have liked to sit and watch the sun as it fell, until it was gone completely and the stars shone bright in the sky and the lights of the city were kindled. <BR>Perhaps someday he would have all the time in the world to consider such things - but not now. He gave it no more thought, instead turning his mind to the problem of what he should do and where he could go from here.
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Postby AurabellaBolger » Mon Mar 22, 2004 5:35 pm

Rozenwyn sat at a table in a far corner, sipping hot punch and carving on a block of wood, uncertain as yet of what shape would finally reveal itself within the wood, whether it would be a marvel of beauty or a thing compelling in its ugliness or (most likely) something in between.<BR><BR>She came to the Knotted Snake often, but no one there knew her name. The same waiter served her punch night after night, but he had never bothered to inquire her name, never bothered to talk to her as he often chatted with the other customers. There was something about Rozenwyn which repelled conversation, something that went beyond her physical peculiarity -- a birthmark, a dark blemish that gave her face the look of being half-covered in shadow. At one time in her life, she had worn hooded cloaks and kept the shadowy side of her face covered and the unblemished side turned to the light; she had received one or two compliments on her "exquisite profile" from people who had not bothered to look carefully enough to see past the strategically set hood. But she had finished with that strategy. Now, except when she was "taking" -- in which case she wore a plain brown cowl, not the sort of garment to attract attention -- she kept her face uncovered, both fair and shadow halves exposed to the light. It drew stares, some of them quite insistent, but she decided she would rather be stared at than take such pains to hide her peculiarity.<BR>But this did not prevent waiters and others from speaking to her. It was something behind her eyes that put them off, a hard, steely glint that marked her as unsociable. She had no friends at the Knotted Snake.<BR><BR>No matter. She had friends elsewhere, her neighbors with whom she shared her "takings." They were very few in number, but she trusted them. She didn't trust this crowd. From the glittering to the tattered, they were unsavory sorts, people out for anything they could grab, careless of whom they had to elbow aside; for them, the joy lay in the grasping, the holding, for there lay the power. She was not interested in such things. Her "takings" had other motives, and she was determined that no one who did not deserved to suffer a little would be hurt by accident through any act of hers. These folk just didn't care.<BR>Yet she came here, again and again, because here she found inspiration. Here, more than anywhere else, her hands felt alive with the longing to carve, to fashion formless wood into a semblance of humanity that seemed to live and breathe in its detail. Just now she was interested in carving representations of various Sins, and she never failed to see their faces on parade here: vanity, gluttony, envy... all in abundance.<BR>"This one will be Vanity," she mumbled to herself, as she began to shape her wood-block into the figure of the beautiful veiled lady. The lady was probably not vain -- just very beautiful, very elegant and mysterious, and very careful and cunning in her dealings with people. (She supposed she was mysterious enough, but she hadn't mastered care and cunning in dealings with people yet. Perhaps she would, one day, when she grew more used to approaching people instead of observing them from a distance.) <BR><BR>Then the eruption had come, and she had straightened in her chair attentively. The visitors, the guard, the accusations, the blows and the shattering -- all interested her. Brawls were commonplace occurrences in this notorious tavern, indeed in nearly all the places she frequented, but still she found herself watching, listening, and wondering.<BR>In the guard's snarled threats she heard a fascinating thing: an important gem had been stolen. Rozenwyn tried to recall all that day's "takings," all that she had spilled onto her cot at home after having lifted it or snipped it neatly from the silk-swathed toads and pigeons who had been carrying them; for an instant, she wondered whether she might have accidentally happened on this vital bauble, might have taken it from the taker. No, she had seen nothing like that. "But if they're looking for a poor person, or even a professional thief, they're showing how stupid they are," she muttered. "It's as the lady said; nobody could sell it. No one stole that thing for money. It's political. They need to be looking for a lord in fine-tailored satin. They're the most accomplished thieves, after all."<BR>She shook her head in frustration. Normally, anything that upset the satin-wearing crowd was good in her eyes, but the guards wouldn't have the wit to look where they should. This theft only meant more trouble for people like her neighbors, and for people such as her parents had been.<BR>She might have thought "people like her," but she knew she was no innocent.
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Postby GlassHouse » Tue Mar 23, 2004 12:36 pm

Brandir rolled the dice. Gambling had always been Brandir's true calling. Once upon a time, he had been very good at it,back in the days before his father had seen fit to interfere with his happy debauchery and insist he take on a respectable profession. <BR>Many a long and carefree night had been spent in the brawling company of sons of Umbar's decadent nobility, carousing, drinking and singing - but mainly playing games of chance for extremely high stakes - and winning more than his fair share of them. <BR>It was not so since his return to Umbar and tonight was no different. Luck continued to elude him and he left the game poorer than when he'd started. Luck, it seemed, had all but abandoned him and almost nothing had gone right since the loss his ship to the "thricedamnedSeaWolves". <BR><BR>The memory of the pirate ship that had appeared out of a fog bank in the black of the night and of the cut throats who had fallen on his crew before the alarm could even be sounded was still vivid. The crew of the Osprey had put up a good fight - as good as they were able - but they had been out numbered and taken unaware. Those that hadn't surrendered were killed outright. Those that survived were given a choice, be put to work on the Corsair vessel or be sold as slaves in the nearest port. Only he and three others had managed to escape over the side and it had taken them months to make their way back to Umbar.<BR><BR><BR>It was difficult to believe that it had only been six or seven months ago that his father came to him with the ultimatum that would change his life. <em>"Lose your </em><strong>rascal's</strong><em> ways, my wastrel son.</em>"</em> he intoned in his most pontifical voice. <em>"Start taking some</em> '<strong>Responsibility</strong>'<em> for your life and do some '</em><strong>Honest Work</strong>' <em>Something befitting the honor of our House -or have your allowance cut off.!"</em> Brandir had no choice but to agree.<BR><BR>So the ne'er-do-well son of the House of Cerawyn, was unexpectedly given command of the merchant ship, the Osprey, - if only because of his father's influence with it's wealthy owners. But his father's influence only went so far - and being sound men of business, the bankers and money lenders had set out strict conditions. They would only agree to give an untested boy command of a ship, if the House of Cerawyn personally guaranteed the success of the voyage. As Captain, Brandir and his family would be held responsible for the success or failure of the venture. <BR><BR>His father's influence and standing would not stop the consortium of bankers and merchants who had backed the venture from wanting to collect their money. They wouldn't care to hear about the-blasted-Sea-Wolves - They'll simply blame Brandir's father for talking them into putting an inexperienced youth in command and demand he make good on his promise. Paying for that dept would ruin Brandir's family and Brandir would not allow that to happen if he could prevent it.
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Postby Zafira » Sat Mar 27, 2004 6:31 pm

Following the guard through the darkening city streets, Zafira could feel disappointment begin to settle over her, it seemed that the brief excitement was to come to nothing after all. Apart from some excitable shouting and gesticulating and the odd meeting with another patrol, which led to some lamentable dithering and milling about, they seemed no closer to finding any information about the whereabouts of the thief. A deep sigh escaped her lips; city life was so dull these days, perhaps she should give up and go home after all?<BR><BR>Suddenly the shouting increased in urgency and volume, peeking out of the curtains Zafira could see a number of torches approaching at speed, she may yet see more of the night’s events. <BR><BR>The litter slowed and then stopped as the press in the narrow street grew and she called softly to the bearers to take a break. With a swift and shocking suddenness, made all the more disconcerting by the total silence in which it happened, the roof of her litter exploded in a flurry of silk and tassels and a man dropped heavily into her lap. Giving her no time for any more than an ooph of surprise and indeed, in reaction to his weight, the rogue covered her mouth with his none too clean hand. <BR><BR>She was frozen with fear; this must be the thief himself! Perhaps he was a dastardly Sea Wolf or a foul magician who would slit her throat without a second thought. She tensed herself and determined to fight him if she got a chance; his first words therefore were almost as much of a shock as his arrival itself,<BR><BR> <em>"Ahhh, please, my lady! Grant me but a moment to worship at the feet of thy beauty and I would gladly give up my life thereafter as entirely fulfilled."</em><BR><BR>Well, if he was a pirate he was certainly a most unusual one, but one she no longer feared, surely someone of murderous intent would not seek to cajole his victim with sweet talk? And indeed now she looked at his eyes all she could see was desperation, this was a man she could handle perhaps. The fear drained out of her and instead she felt a heady confidence. In fact now she came to think of it, surely that sort of line had been old in her mother’s time? Did he think her a complete ninny, some blushing maid, to be taken in by such obvious flattery? Her ire rose,but, he was a good looking man, despite his ridiculous get up (really those breeches were positively indecent!), and he was certainly amusing. It might be interesting to let him speak.<BR><BR>He carried on, displaying a talent at obsequiousness that rivalled any courtier, which was certainly impressive, but there was more to this – when on earth would he get to the point? <BR><BR><em> "Okay…the truth is that the Palace Guard are after me, and not because they want to buy me a glass of râka. There’s a platoon in front of us, a platoon behind us…and I don’t know how many more across the city. And…the Governor has a personal grudge against me." </em><BR><BR>Yes! Now this was excitement! Zafira could feel herself bubbling up with barely suppressed questions, when a sudden thought came to her,<em> "Show it to me!"</em><BR><BR>And suddenly there it was, quite the most beautiful gem she had ever seen! It gleamed with a dull, blue fire in the shadows of the litter and she was gripped with an almost overwhelming avarice, if only she could keep it! She couldn’t of course, she knew that it would be too dangerous and she valued her head more, but its smooth weight in her hand was an utter delight.<BR><BR>With a polite but firm pressure the man uncurled her fingers from their possessive clutch of the jewel and she frowned pettishly at him, her grasp had been unconscious but she resented his interference anyway. To cover her slip of control she shrugged lightly and let him take it back.<BR><BR><em> "La Sir thief, I suppose it’s pretty enough, not really my style though, too…"</em>, and here she struggled to find anything negative to say about the great gem, <em> "clunky!"</em><BR><BR>She was quite sure his eyes were laughing at her now! The impudent Scoundrel! It would serve him right if she turned him over to the guard after all. But no, far better to listen to the tale he was telling her, this was still the most stimulating and exciting thing to happen to her in months after all.<BR><BR>His tale of acrobats, wagers, cousins and finally discovery and flight was faintly disappointing – there seemed to be no involvement of the Sea Wolves, no assassins, magic, or even dread curses. With a sigh she let go of her more colourful flights of fancy, there was still adventure to be had, even if of a more mundane hue.<BR><BR><em> “You need to get to the Knotted Snake?”</em> she asked<em> “I can help with that, no one in their right minds would hinder or suspect me!” </em> Thinking harder she leaned out through the litter curtain<em> “In fact…Captain!” </em><BR><BR>The thief’s face blanched, the smug look vanishing from his face and she almost laughed to see him so taken aback, but she shushed him with her hand instead and pushed him back down among the many cushions.<BR><BR>Adopting an imperious tone she summoned the lieutenant again, <em> “Captain!” </em><BR><BR>As the young man pushed through the crowd of his men Zafira arranged her veil and settled her features into an expression as alluring and yet innocent as she could manage.<BR><BR>His eyes widened as he caught his first good look at her and realised just who she was and even in the moonlight she could see the flush that rose to his cheeks. <BR><BR>She fluttered at him wide eyed and breathless<em> “Oh thank the Goddess you’re here Captain! With all this talk of villains I was quite terrified! Do say you’ll stay and protect me!” </em><BR><BR>The man hesitated<em> “Actually I’m not a Cap..” </em> he trailed off as Zafira shamelessly let her shawl slip and clasped her hands to her bosom in mock fear.<BR><BR><em> “I’m on my way to the Knotted Snake you see Captain, but I’m scared the brute will abduct me from my very litter!” </em> If she breathed any heavier she was afraid she would faint, but her tactic seemed to be working judging from the deep brick colour of the guardsman’s face, leaning closer she whispered to him<em> “You see I will have to send my own bodyguard away to protect my own jewels at home! But that will leave me all alone and defenceless!” </em><BR><BR>She could see Yusuf standing in the shadows beside the litter, his eyes narrowed as he contemplated the six burly tribesmen that stood ready to defend her as well as carry her where ever she wanted, but thankfully the guardsman seemed oblivious to the holes in her logic.<BR><BR>Instead he smirked at the glowering Omar; this was a chance not only to escort the fabulous Zafira but to humiliate his hated ex-comrade too, he bowed low and shouted to his men, <BR><BR><em> “Clear the way! Form escort! My lady, it will be my pleasure and honour to ensure the safety of The Flower of the Desert!” </em> bowing again with a flourish he moved off to lead the way to the tavern, convinced that the heart of the lady Zafira was well within his grasp.<BR><BR>Turning back to the thief inside the litter Zafira, grinned at him mockingly, and even his faint muttering did nothing to damp down her triumph.<BR><BR><em> “Defencless?…Pah…About as defenceless as a cobra!” </em>
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Postby truehobbit » Sun Mar 28, 2004 4:29 pm

With one gulp Elin drained the last remnants of a glass of dry red wine. The tangy sting on his tongue was reviving. He had just returned to the citadel, sweating and exhausted, from another vain attempt to catch a guy who was suspected of murder, who had been giving them the slip for some time now. <BR>Nothing had worked as it should so far today. <BR><BR>He had entered the cool of the shade in his room in the garrison, flung himself on the settee that stood in a corner of the room, torn off the white cloth headgear that maybe protected the wearer from sun-stroke, but didn't serve to ward off a blow, and poured himself a glass of the heavy wine that stood ready for him in a flagon on a small table next to the settee.<BR><BR>He breathed out audibly and leaned his head back to rest on the cool stone wall. How many more days again till he could go off duty for a bit?<BR><BR>Immediately, his hopeful calculations were interrupted by an urgent knocking at his door and excited calls of <em>“Captain! Captain!”</em> from outside.<BR><BR><em>“Come in!”</em> he called, scrambling into an upright position and placing his glass back on the table.<BR><BR>A guardsman, carrying a pike, entered, saluted, and was just beginning to say there was a Lieutenant of the Palace Guards to see him in an important matter, when the Lieutenant already brushed past him into the room. Without waiting for further invitation he began to speak, trying hard to avoid showing the embarrassment of his task.<BR><BR><em>"I come with orders from the Governor to raise the alarm among the guards. You are urgently required to send a battalion to aid in the taking of a most audacious thief, who has stolen the Star of Feanor from the Governor’s palace. By some evil trickery he has so far escaped the Palace Guards, so that the Governor sees fit to mobilize as many troops as necessary for the taking of this vile traitor."</em><BR><BR>Elin raised an eyebrow and looked at the Governor’s messenger in disbelief.<BR><BR><em>"You want a battalion of the Guards to go after a thief?" <BR><BR>"By order of the Governor, yes!" <BR><BR>"And you say this thief has stolen that famous jewel called the Star of Feanor, which is in the Governor’s possession? Sorry – </em>was<em> in the Governor’s possession."</em><BR><BR>The Lieutenant nodded.<BR><BR><em>"And which, from what I have heard, he keeps in the innermost part of the palace in a special chamber, designed so as to prevent any possibility of even those that have access to the room being overcome with temptation and taking the jewel?"</em><BR><BR>Another nod confirmed the description.<BR><BR><em>"Well, in that case I’d be most curious to learn your explanation on how it was possible for anyone to steal it!"<BR><BR>"It was </em>– the Lieutenant hesitated as if not quite convinced of what he was going to say – <em>some kind of acrobat – the Governor saw him himself and described him to the chief of the Palace Guards. He flew out of the chamber it is said, or maybe he jumped, but that would have been the most amazing jump you’ve ever seen. The Palace Guards on duty started pursuing the intruder before he could leave the palace, but lost him in the crowded streets. The Governor has given orders to round up all the acrobats in town. Oh, and the thief was wearing a white linen shirt and blue breaches."</em><BR><BR>Elin, fighting to supress an amused grin, nodded in confirmation of the orders.<BR><BR><em>"A troop of men will be sent to collect all the acrobats in the city. I myself will attempt to find out about the whereabouts of this acrobat-thief. Go and tell the Governor it won’t be long until his precious is back in his pockets."</em><BR><BR>The Lieutenant looked a bit irritated at this seemingly disrespectful answer, but thought it was not for him to say so to a Captain of the Guards and, considering himself dismissed, saluted, turned on his heel and left.<BR><BR>Fetching his headgear from the settee and putting it on again, Elin thought about where to start. There were quite a few acrobats in town at all times, but such an extraordinary act of physical dexterity could not have been performed by just anyone of them. Imagining the jump, he was instantly reminded of the troupe he had seen in the marketplace a short while ago – the incredible pyramid of humans they had formed, and the nimble girl who had finally danced around on top of them all. Maybe it had even been her, who had got into the Governor’s palace. Quite a few heavy purses had been reported stolen since that particular group had arrived. But then it also required great physical strength to perform such an enormous leap.<BR>Anyway, he would recognize the girl if he saw her, and otherwise could still watch out for a chap in blue and white.<BR><BR>Smoothing his uniform and straightening the belt which held his sword, he went to give some orders for the dispatch of a battalion and then left the garrison to make for the one place where all the information afloat in Umbar had both its source and its centre – the coffee house called “The Knotted Snake”.
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Postby Impenitent » Mon Mar 29, 2004 7:00 am

Basri watched Nadira leave, still grumbling into his beard about her impulsiveness. He sighed deeply shaking his head slightly; he knew there was nothing he could do to curb her. Since she was five years old, when he had stepped in as guardian on the death of her parents, she had never once minded him unless his advice had fallen in with her own desires – though she always managed to make him feel that his opinions were her guidance beacons. <BR><BR>He returned to the table, where Rautha was regaling three other members of the troupe with stories of his second cousin on his mother’s side who had gained some infamy as a Sea Wolf. Rautha seemed to be related to half of Umbar, being also the third cousin, twice removed on his father’s side to Kherti, owner of the fine establishment in which they currently resided. <BR><BR>Thanks to this kinship the troupe was very comfortable, taking up three of the airier upstairs rooms with balconies facing the lushly planted courtyard with its trickling fountain as sleeping quarters. They had also very generously been provided with a large, open room at the rear, immediately below their rooms with a gallery open to that same courtyard, where they would cook, eat and gather their company for the duration of their stay in the city. Nectar had scrubbed the floors and the table top, brought in the richly embroidered, stuffed camel hair saddlebags and throws from her caravan to make it homely, placed the elaborate, indispensable silver coffee set in pride of place at the table and prepared the open hearth for their pots and cooking implements.<BR><BR>Four of the troupe were now seated at that table, partaking of coffee as they talked.<BR><BR><em>“Don’t put ideas into their heads, Rautha,”</em> Basri’s basso rumble broke through their laughter at another of his cousin’s amazing exploits. <em>“There are more honourable ways of earning a living than stealing from those who sweat for their bread.”</em><BR><BR><em>“The Brotherhood are honourable enough! They do not steal from the poor, as many of those who have the law in their pockets do every day.”</em> Rautha, black haired and nuggety of build, had lived in Umbar until his 12 th year, when he was orphaned and, ever a risk taker, ran away from his anxious kin to seek adventure before the troupe of acrobats took him on two years later. He had found his home – albeit a travelling one – with the troupe. In the intervening 18 years he had maintained a vigorous correspondence with one of his female cousins, thus keeping up with the news of his entire large clan. Rautha moved from his seat to fetch the water pipe, involving himself in cleaning and preparing the elaborate arrangements of pipes as the talk rolled on across the table.<BR><BR>Nectar had been gone a little more than half an hour, and her adopted “uncles” were deciding who should prepare the evening coffee when all hell broke loose in Kherti’s establishment. <BR><BR>It seemed that the young captain of the city guard had not overlooked the possibility that the acrobat-thief may have panicked and fled back to his troupe . While the captain headed to The Knotted Snake, he sent a squad of constabulary to find where the troupe were staying. It had not been a difficult task; like a great number of the more successful travelling entertainers who passed through the city, Kherti’s large, warren-like establishment was their residence of choice and they had made no secret of it in the preceding week.<BR><BR>The seven or so Guards hurtled in through every entryway of their common room, shouting at them to keep still and to give up the thief at the same time. Two brazen young guards had drawn their swords and were waving them about threateningly, while two others raced up the stairs to check the sleeping quarters while the others looked behind cushions and pots in the common room. Basri slowly raised himself from his seat, bristling with anger. One guard pushed his sword tip forward, under Basri’s chin, but the desert tribesman was not so easily cowed. With cold control, he placed his hand on the blade and slowly pushed it from him until the young guard, embarrassed by his own cockiness, gave way and dropped the tip of the sword.<BR><BR><em> “If you were a man of the desert, I would call you a coward for threatening an unarmed man thus – and in his own home! We are honest men here; what do you want of us? We have done nothing to deserve this!” </em> The sergeant in charge would have none of it. Generally ill-natured, he liked to exercise his little bit of power in a small, mean way.<BR><BR><em> “Don’t be so cocky, old man! We want the fellow with the curly moustaches, the red-head. He broke into the Palace not two hours ago and stole the Star of Feanor. He was seen by the Governor himself! Now, where is he? Give him up!” </em><BR><BR>Basri drew a quick breath; so, that is what Nectar and Aviel had been up to this night! His eyes flickered to Rautha, and he saw that Rautha had made the connection. Basri stood his ground.<BR><BR><em> “You are mistaken. We are honest men, and we are well-rewarded for the skills we have. Ask all who know us; we have no need to steal. You have dishonoured me by accusing any of my men in this way.” </em> Basri stared down the younger man, the contempt in his eyes unmistakeable. The sergeant’s quick temper was pricked. He swaggered closer, leaning in with a nasty smile.<BR><BR><em> “Your man, is he? Well, if you want to take such responsibility for him, you can take a bit more. You can come with us and tell us some more about your man and what he might be up to right now.” </em><BR><BR>Two guards grabbed Basri roughly, as the others who had done searching their rooms – having found nothing – returned. While the three other troupe members protested, Basri was led away by the guards.<BR><BR><em> “You can tell the thief that we have the old man locked up in the central guardhouse– for obstructing the pursuit of justice. Tell the thief he can come see him, if he likes. He’ll be staying awhile.” </em> The sergeant smiled nastily at them again and the squad left with Basri in their midst.<BR><BR>They wasted no time. They ran off in different directions – one to find those of the troupe out playing dice; one to seek whatever help they could from friends in the city, one to seek advice from Kherti. Rautha headed straight for The Knotted Snake, racing through the maze of alleys to arrive beneath the great bronze plaque out of breath from shock and exertion.<BR><BR>He peered inside anxiously, spying Nectar sedately enjoying a coffee service in her private booth. Eyes ablaze, he made to approach her and stopped himself just in time. If he went in to speak to her in this state it would attract too much attention. If Aviel was around, it was best to stay quiet and inconspicuous. In any case, Nectar was safe and she wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. He’d come back to speak to her when he’d found out what he could.<BR><BR>Rautha backed out again and as calmly as he could made for the rear alleys. He found one of the many small doorways, followed the turns in the badly lit corridor and entered the Snake Pit. Eyes turned surreptitiously at his entrance, found nothing to keep their interest and turned away. Aviel was not here – but if he still had his liberty, he would come to keep his word to Nectar at least. Disappointed, Rautha made for the bar.<BR><BR><em> “A glass of râka, and leave the bottle.”</em> The barman put down a tiny râka glass in front of him, the bottle next to his elbow and made to move away. Rautha took the risk. <em> “I hear the Star has been stolen. I’d like to meet the man who took it and shake his hand. I don’t suppose anyone here knows where he is?”</em><BR>
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Postby Errand » Mon Mar 29, 2004 8:10 pm

Ashe ignored the cafe altogether and went directly for the snake pit. Coffee was alright enough in the morning. When he could afford it anyway. Right now he figured some place a little darker was in order. The Snake Pit, a less reputable portion of the semi-venerable Knotted Snake, was not a bad place per se. Certainly it was a bit on the seedy side, but it would have been quite disappointing otherwise. After all, when one goes into such a dubiously named place one should expect no less. Ashe was seated cross legged, in a darkened corner of the room by the bar, with his eyes half closed. He was smoking some traditional pipeweed, imported from Gondor or so they said, and using a somewhat strange looking pipe held mid-stem. <BR><BR>Ashe was growing a bit tense. Good old Aviel was certainly taking his time, doubtless dodging guards, warning his friends, changing his disguise, the usual to-do list of the hunted fugitive. It was not altogether an impossibilty if he should happen to be delayed. Just the same, it was worrisome.<BR><BR><em>I should have just taken the Star from you, Aviel. Would have done both of us a favor. You could have gone back to your circus or whatever and I could've stuck it to the governor.</em><BR> <BR>He would have loved to wave that jewel in the man's face. It was a pleasant enough thought that Ashe even smirked briefly. Ashe perked his ears as a portly, black haired man went over to the bar and asked whether anyone knew where the thief was so as to shake the man's hand. That was innocuous enough. The portly fellow was merely against the governor and wanted to meet the man who had struck a blow against him. A popular and safe sentiment in order to hide his true intent: he knew Aviel and needed to find him badly. The fact that he was out of breath added to Ashe's guess. But it remained just that, a guess. He listened briefly to the bartender and then decided to very subtly test it out.<BR><BR>"Maybe he'll show up here." he said with a vicious little grin. Ashe spoke in an low, offhand manner, not even bothering to look at the man. A thin stream of blue smoke drifted from his lips. "Could be he'll buy us a round of drinks with that rock of his, hey?."<BR><BR>Ashe felt the man's gaze on him, but did not meet it. He didn't know where Aviel was, just where he would be if he hadn't been caught. If the man was desperate enough, maybe he'd take it as a hint. Not that Ashe was a particularly nice person, but he felt he owed Aviel a favor, if this indeed was a favor he was doing.
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Postby GlassHouse » Thu Apr 01, 2004 9:31 am

It was late evening but the street in front of the Knotted Snake was full of activity. In fact the streets everywhere seemed to be full of unusual goings on this night. Something had the City Guard in a terrible uproar. Troops of them could be seen everywhere, marching this way or that, stopping people for questioning and even detaining some of them, seemingly at random. The tensions of the crowd crackled through the hot night air of Umbar and the city was ablaze with all kinds of wild rumors. <BR><BR>From what Brandir was able to gather, the commotion had started with an incident at the Governor's Palace - but what that had been, it was difficult to tell. <BR>He had talked to a vendor of spiced wine, who told him an attempt had been made on the Governor's life. <BR>A group of old women at one of the municipal water fountains were positive that some rascal had attempted a break-in of the Women's quarters in the Palace. He even heard one old grandfather tell a fantastic tale that the famous jewel, The Star of Feanor that had been taken from it's impenetrable vault. <BR> <BR>Then there were even more ominous stories beginning to circulate through the already nervous crowd. Some said that Guards had cordoned off an area, perhaps a quarter mile square, in the lower districts of the city and that they were questioning everyone - not allowing anyone in or out of the area.<BR>Some even said that they had talked to a few ashen-faced people who had been able to slip through the blockade and that they told stories of residents being beaten in their homes and were worried sick about loved ones still inside the quarter. <BR><BR>Whatever the truth was, it was certainly not a night to be out in the streets. <BR>It would be wise to seek out a quiet place where he could abide until things were calmer and since the (slightly) infamous Knotted Snake was the most handy place, he decided to settle in there for the night. <BR> <BR>Brandir drew the trailing end of his head cloth about his face and was about to enter the relative sanctuary of the Snake when he had to jump quickly aside to let yet another troop of Guards pass by, (a sensation not unlike being directly in the path of stampeding camels). They pushed their way through the door and out into the darkening streets, scattering pedestrians before them. Curious faces followed them as they cut their way through the crowd and the murmur of unrestrained speculation trailed in their wake.<BR><BR>Inside the Snake, the air had it's normal amber haze. Lanterns of finely worked bronze hung from pillars and along the walls, casting a diffuse ruddy light that mixed with the smoke and the aroma's of coffee, spices and strange perfumes creating an intoxicating atmosphere. But the tension of the patrons was as palpable in here as it had been on the street. <BR>He scanned the room, looking for any familiar face. It was a bit of a risk to come here. This was a place where he might be recognized and he was glad of his disguise. Still cloaked and hooded in the loose fitting, white and beige robes of a desert tribesman and with the traditional red head-cloth and a brown sash wound about his waist to hold a sword and dagger, Brandir was able to blend in without attracting undo attention. <BR>Still, The Snake Pit was a popular place among the spoiled sons of Umbar's decadent aritocrats. It would be disastrous if he were to meet anyone who might recognize him and then let it slip that he was back in Umbar. And he most certainly did not want to encounter any of his former friends. The kind friends he had in his former life were not the sort that one could count on when things got hard. Any one of them could easily decide that the news of Brandir's return to Umbar would prove a valuable commodity to certain financiers - or that Brandir's family would pay twice the price to prevent that news from reaching the wrong people. <BR><BR>Making his way slowly through the crowd, he headed toward an empty table in the rear where he could consider how things stood, when he heard a voice he recognized. <BR>It was Nectar, one of the troop of performers who had befriended him his first day back in Umbar and with her was Dhurma, one of her many uncles. He would have passed them by if it had not been for her voice, for she was seated in one of the private alcoves, in the shade of a pillar and Dhurma's back was to him and she herself was attired as any ordinary desert girl might be, veiled in a modest dress of cotton, decorated with coins and trinkets. <BR>Nectar and her brother Aviel had and her large family (which seemed to consist of a great many "uncles" ) had extended to him the traditional hospitality of the her people. According to desert ethics, a man must offer food and drink to anyone who appears at his doorstep as a friend. In the harsh arid lands of Harad, a man alone soon dies. Life is possible only with the help and support of others; and at that it is often a struggle just to carry on. So it was that among the desert people, generosity brought honor, while stinginess spawned contempt. <BR>The generosity of her family had been most welcome for he had been nearly penniless at the time and in the week or two he had know them, there had devolved the beginnings of a real friendship with the family of performers. But most especially with Nectar and her brother Aviel. Brandir and Avi had hit it off almost at once. They were very like each other. The young acrobat was good natured and had an infectious grin and was an excellant gambler. Brandir had taken him to some out of the way gambling houses and he had proven to be a skilled player and a good companion. <BR>That he was drawn to Nectar was no surprise, as any man who had seen the lithe young woman, (<em>"who's every movement was so fluid, so graceful, as beatiful as any moonlit oasis in the hostile desert"</em>) perform her remarkable acrobatic dance could not help but fall under her spell. But he had come to know her better than those who merely admired her from the audience. For some reason, she had chosen to befriend him and while she had been warm and gracious towards him, and he suspected (or allowed himself to imagine) that she harbored a some attraction towards him also. But her "uncles" had seen to it that their young guest and their niece where at all times properly chaperoned. In fact, he had never seen her when she was not in the company of at least two of her relations. <BR>The prospect of Nectar's company was an unexpected blessing and given the strange events in the city this night, she and Dhurma might be glad to have him around. He approached her table and greeted her in a tradition desert fashion. Then slid into a seat and let his head scarf down off his face. <BR> <BR>"Dhurma, Nectar, it's is good to see you - but what are you doing out on this strange night?<BR>It is not safe to be abroad with all this upheaval in the city. Where is Avi, is he here also?"
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Postby Alys » Thu Apr 01, 2004 12:55 pm

oops
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Postby Zafira » Thu Apr 01, 2004 12:59 pm

As the litter swayed on its ungainly but graceful way through the narrow maze of streets approaching the Snake, no one could have guessed at the frenzy of activity that took place within it.<BR><BR>Zafira was rummaging feverishly through the many clothes and accessories that gave her litter an even more apt meaning than was normal. Yusuf might scold her incessantly for her untidiness, but even he could not deny that it made her prepared for just such an event! Congratulating herself on what was obviously not carelessness but cunning aforethought, Zafira inspected the spoils; this black veil twisted just so would make a passable headdress, that grey one (previously discarded by her for being far too dreary and for having the inexcusable effect of making her look sadly washed out) would make a sash for his waist. She had to admit that the long smock, wheedled from a Yusuf now huffily stomping alongside the litter dressed in a showy white shirt that did nothing to improve his mood, was a little…well…neat…not to mention short, on the thief but it would pass a casual scrutiny and would just have to do. A pair of her own trousers ripped off at the bottom and tied on to hide his blue breeches completed the disguise but for one small thing……<BR><BR>That hair! Those moustaches! Aiieee, but how to hide them? <BR><BR>A sudden grin flew to the dancer’s face, her eyeblack! The wonderful powder she had bought just last week in the bazaar and even now sat forgotten, still in it’s packaging and ready for a most unusual subject!<BR><BR><em>“This will have to do,”</em> she hissed at the thief,<em> “until you can shave off your silly moustaches and beard, you can rub this in to them to make them seem black!”</em><BR><BR>Highly pleased with this idea she sat back to receive the thanks that were her due but instead he frowned fiercely at her, the wretched ingrate that he was! <BR><BR>He opened his mouth to refuse but once again she shushed him, <em> “No doubt you think them very fine, and I’m sure an amazing number of women have admired them over the years, but you must admit that they are at the very least distinctive!”</em><BR><BR>She knew she was being unfair to him; there was no denying that he was a fine looking man, but this was hardly a time for vanity over facial hair!<BR><BR>Thankfully he made no more demur and after liberally sprinkling his bright hair with the powder, until it was almost as dark as her own scorpion black curls, he sat and let her carefully apply it to his face.<BR><BR>She was unable to stop a soft laugh from escaping when she saw the finished result, <em> “Well you may be mistaken for a rather disreputable chimney sweep but never for a daring, handsome acrobat and fearless thief! I think we should get away with it so long as you keep your head down and move quickly!” </em><BR><BR>A gleam of white teeth in the gloom of his head wrapping showed that his sense of humour had returned at least. Yes, they could work together she and this man! She must be careful to leave him no way to drop her once he saw her as no longer useful, she wanted to be part of the exciting story that was sure to unfold!<BR><BR>A soft rap sounded on the side of her litter and Yusuf stuck his head inside, eyes widening at the sight that met him, <em>“I hope you’re finished my lady, “ </em> disapproval rank in every whispered syllable <em> because we have arrived at the Snake.” </em> as a afterthought he added dryly <em>” I do hope you know just exactly it is you plan to do next.”</em>
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Postby Impenitent » Fri Apr 02, 2004 4:21 pm

Rautha turned to look at the man smoking quietly in a dark corner of the bar. A young fellow in a worn robe who wouldn’t meet his gaze but Rautha, hypersensitive with anxiety about Aviel and Basri, felt sure that there sat a man with information he wanted to know. Rautha gestured to the portly barman to hand over another tiny râka glass, picked up his own and the bottle and made his way over to the man. His breath and heartbeat had slowed as his adrenaline rush subsided, so he moved now with a spring in his step; as the strong-man of the troupe he was somewhat muscle-bound but nonetheless light on his feet.<BR><BR>He walked past a group of young friends talking animatedly about the Palace Guardsmen who had recently paid a visit to the pit looking for the Star. The Guards had obviously been given short shrift for despite their youth, all five – handsome and well-dressed after the manner of the west - moved with the learned grace that indicated long practice with the sword. Even with his attention on the man in the corner, Rautha’s eye was caught by the young woman amongst them, dark-haired, pale, icy in her self-confidence yet she could not have been even in her eighteenth year. She looked at him shrewdly; this one also had read the intent behind his words.<BR><BR>Rautha reached the little alcove and eased himself onto one of the worn and none-too-clean cushions, pushed the glass along the table towards to the man and gave him a crooked little grin. He poured himself another drink, then filled the glass in front of the man, placing the bottle on the table with a sharp clink. <BR><BR><em>“How about I buy you a round of râka while we wait? Our hero may be awhile running from the Guards – unless you know more about it?”</em> He spoke as if in light banter, but Rautha cocked an eyebrow at the stranger, watching him carefully for his response. <BR><BR>The man finally looked him in the eye, a quizzical look that was somewhat disconcerting due to his unusual eyes – one green, one amber. The man picked up his glass and they were just clinking them, warily, in the time-honoured salute when a rushed flurry of robes at the door drew both their eyes. The man wore a black head cloth of odd design, a long smock (a little too tight for one of his physique) over trousers that were too short. He had fiercesomely black hair, brows and moustaches and Rautha would have gone back to his companion had he not caught the raffish grin that was instantly familiar. Aviel! Rautha’s face battled between relief and anxiety as Aviel slithered into the seat next to him still grinning broadly at Rautha and Ashe.<BR><BR><em>“Ha! So you have found each other? Here, give me a glass of that; I have earned it, I can tell you!”</em><BR> <BR>* * * *<BR><BR>The Flower of the Desert, eh? Aviel had heard of her, of course, for her fame went far beyond the city, but he had not seen her before. She was not as he had expected, that was certain. Oh, she was very, very pretty; quite alluring, in fact; but she was so….so…well, so playful…so mischievously a young girl. Much like his sister, in fact – though Nectar would never attempt such coquetry as this one had pulled off with such ease!<BR><BR>As soon as the obviously rapturous Guard had taken up his position as escort, the Flower moved into a frenzy of activity. She replaced his borrowed robes with what she considered more effective camouflage – he did not demur, for another change of clothes would be to the good – and then went about redecorating his face and hair!<BR><BR>He allowed her free rein, though he was taken aback by the black powder – which made him sneeze - and grizzled somewhat at the liberties she took about him. As long as she was helping him, she was not giving him up to the authorities, so he let her do as she wished. <BR><BR>Besides, he had taken advantage of her frenzied activity to unload the purloined jewel deep beneath the layers of cushions. From the state of the interior of the litter, the little Blossom had a somewhat lax attitude to cleaning up after herself, and with luck the Star would not be found until he somehow managed to retrieve it himself. On the other hand…even if it was found, it would only serve to implicate her further and she would doubtless enjoy the opportunity to scold him about it at their next meeting. In the meanwhile, he would no longer have the incriminating evidence on his person.<BR><BR><em> “And now, Sir thief, you will have to give me a name – preferably your right one. It will not do, you know, when we arrive at the coffeehouse for me to continue calling you ‘sir thief’.”</em> She raised an enquiring eyebrow at him as she blacked his moustaches, pulling more vigorously than needed and with obvious relish as her efforts caused him to wince.<BR><BR><em> “My Flower, you may call me Aviel and I will take joy in hearing my name fall from your lips.” </em> It came out rather muffled, for she was working now on his goatee. <em> “And shall I continue calling you my Flower or will you allow me to utter your name?” </em><BR><BR>Her hands stopped their work for a moment as she drew herself up tall and dignified and looked haughtily at him. <em> “Don’t think to take liberties because I’ve decided to help you – for now! You will address me as the Lady Zafira.” </em> Avi looked suitably mortified and the Lady Zafira let out a little <em>“hmpf”</em> as she went back to work.<BR><BR>Zafira was an enthusiastic conspirator but she was also very inquisitive. As her hands flew about his person she questioned him – How did he steal it? How did he get away? What did he plan to do with it? Where would he go? Was he really an acrobat? Did he work alone? Really, a sister? What about his troupe? By the time they reached the Knotted Snake Avi was exhausted trying to satiate her curiosity and was looking forward to the relative relief of the Snake Pit. With the Knotted Snake only steps away, they had not yet determined their course of action. <BR><BR><em> “Lady Zafira, when we arrive at the Snake will you indulge me in one more favour, please? My sister awaits me there, and doubtless will have heard of the theft by now and will be very worried. But I don’t dare show myself in the coffeehouse – if the Guards are worth anything they will be watching the whole troupe. Will you go to her…?”</em><BR><BR>Thus they determined that the Flower of the Desert would enter through the main doors with much pomp – hopefully distracting attention long enough for Aviel could slip out of the litter unseen and make his way to the Snake Pit. He owed it to Ashe to turn up there and explain himself. In the meantime, Zafira would find Nectar in the main coffeehouse. <BR><BR>The problem was, what was he to do afterwards? Doubtless the Governor had spies everywhere and eyes would be on the acrobats soon if they were not already. And there was that traitorous dog, the Sea Wolf captain who had entered the devil’s bargain with the Governor – he, too, would be seeking to bring Aviel’s adventure through life to an abrupt end. Avi sighed disconsolately. The Flower of the Desert pouted prettily.<BR><BR><em> “We could retire afterwards to my House…just briefly!” </em> she protested hurriedly as she saw his eyes light with mischief …<em> “Until better arrangements can be made for you to get away…get word to me somehow after you have met your fisherman and I will arrange to have my litter ready for you.”</em> Aviel took her hand slowly and kissed her fingers, grinning raffishly up into her face. She noticed he’d left a smudge of black soot over the back of her hand. <em> “And Aviel…take care not to smear your moustache.” </em><BR><BR>They had arrived at their destination and the pretty Blossom went into action, managing to engage every male in the vicinity in the task of escorting her out of her litter and in through the door of the Snake. Aviel slithered like a shadow out of the other side of the litter, winked at Yusef who was resplendent in his white, showy shirt – who sniffed at him – and disappeared around the corner to find a door to the Snake Pit.<BR><BR>******<BR>Nectar had already drunk two cups of coffee – tiny ones, true, but bitter as the desert winds – and indulged in a plate of sweetmeats without any sight of Aviel. She was very worried now, and was considering returning home to confess her fears to Basri and the others when Dhurma appeared at her side. His face was smiling pleasantly but his eyes signalled that something was seriously wrong. He sat hurriedly on one of the cushions beside her and immediately told her of the Guards’ visit to their quarters at Kherti’s court and Basri’s current fate. <BR><BR>Nectar’s heart sank; they were still deep in animated conversation when she heard her name called by a familiar voice. Anxious violet eyes looked up into Brandir’s smiling face as he, too, sank onto the cushions next to her.<BR><BR><em> “Dhurma, Nectar, it is good to see you – but what are you doing out on this strange night? It is not safe to be abroad with all thise upheaval in the city. Where is Avi, is he here also?” </em> Even as he spoke, Brandir saw that something was seriously worrying both his new friends and the smile quickly faded from his face. <em> “What is is? What has happened?” </em> <BR><BR>With a swift and anguished glance at Dhurma, Nectar turned back to Brandir to tell him all.<BR><BR><em> “This uproar over the Star of Feanor – well, they think that Aviel has stolen it; well, actually, he has stolen it. He broke in to the Citadel and took it and now the whole city is after him – and the City Guard have been to our quarters looking for him and they’ve taken Basri! Oh!” </em><BR><BR>She bit off a sob, concentrating on not starting to cry. Speaking those words out-loud brought it home to her; that Basri should suffer because of one of her and Aviel’s escapades was the greatest injustice. He had always warned them that the game would turn deadly. <BR><BR>Brandir placed his hand on her arm to soothe her as Dhurma rubbed her back and so the commotion at the door at the arrival of the Flower of the Desert slipped their attention.
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Postby Errand » Sun Apr 04, 2004 7:14 pm

The râka seared through Ashe's throat before settling down in his stomach with pleasant warmness. He continued sipping it as Aviel and the stranger greeted each other. It appeared that the master thief had changed garbs yet again, and now even the color of his facial hair. If he kept this up, the guards would never catch him. The governor would find that out soon enough. What he would do then was anyone's guess. The man could be awfully vindicative when he put his mind to it. A matter of paying debts, he would say.<BR><BR>Ashe put his pipe back somewhere within his robe and downed the last of his drink. He looked at Aviel and saw the well muscled stranger saying something to him in a very low voice. As the man spoke, Aviel's jaws clenched tightly, but his face betrayed nothing else. Whatever the news was, the acrobat clearly had not found it to his liking.<BR><BR>A small murmur of conversation started among certain patrons all of a sudden. Something about the cafe portion of the Knotted Snake. Ashe shot a meaningful look at Aviel, a question posed in his mismatched eyes. A bit too much of a coincidence for Aviel to arrive and a sudden commotion to start at the Snake
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Postby EdaintheRanger » Thu Apr 08, 2004 4:15 pm

They had sounded the horns as they entered the harbour, the echoes still rang in his ears. The cry of an honest sail, seeking a safe berth, the sound hanging in the air, spellbound for an instant. Seagulls called a raucous response and swooped low to inspect the main spar of this unfamiliar ship. Negotiating the crowded anchorage slowly Jarl like the other newcomers to Umbar could not fail to have his senses amazed Spice fought salt, while dizzying perfumes allured. The coiled plumb line slipped to the deck, narrowly missing his boot encased foot, shiny with a rime of white. The voyage was at an end.<BR><BR>In the heat of the pale, white sun they had worked, briskly to unload their cargo, before haggling a fair price with the merchants’ agents that lounged in the shade of the Merabar trees. By the time the deed was done, the shade had become cool, and the light shrank swiftly marking the end of another Umbarian day.<BR>Having set the watch and the safety lanterns, the crew were loosed. The majority greedily scurried to the warm welcome of a tavern, or the myriad of other pleasures to offer in a city like this, but two remained. The elder of the two grimaced, face thrown into stark relief by the lights from the dockside,<BR><BR><em>“Carved stone and baking brick.”</em> He said, halting the younger one who was making his way along the gunwale to the landing plank, balancing precariously. His dark hair sweeping in the sea breeze, while his azure eyes glittering with amusement, at the other’s awkward words.<BR><BR><em>“Still harking for the crafted timbers of Lake City are we Balthar? What’s the matter, this day’s sun, too much for you in your dotage?”</em><BR><BR>Then having bounced down the plank to the solid stone wharf, the lad ducked, grinning as his baggage was slung after him, it rang faintly as it struck the cobbles. The elder man shook his fist in mock anger, his blue “gripping-beast” tattoos clearly visible. Hoisting his bundle onto the end of his short staff, Jarl then helped the senior man with his load. Gazing back at the now dormant Dragonship (<em>Wyrmschifter</em> in their tongue) the men basked in a job well done. Clearing his salt-gritted, throat Jarl managed:<BR><em>“Gar! My throat is parched, Bal should we off for a wet?”</em><BR><BR><em>“Nar, Jarl! I’ll await the Cap’n, he owes me a few favours. Summat abouta part share in a future venture. You get acquainted with Umbar. And don’t forget to seal that deal with those guys I told you of.”</em> At this Balthar leaned close and winked. <BR><BR><em>“Don’t worry you’ll get your cut at the end.”</em> He whispered, <em>“Just get those notes to the merchant, and it’s a done deal.”</em><BR><BR>Jarl glanced at Balthar, eyes narrowing, before giving the briefest of nods, his mind racing over the descriptions that the snow-pated, journeyman had given him.<BR><BR><em>“Well, in for a florin, in for a mark.”</em> He muttered, before bidding Balthar a more formal farewell. Strolling away in that rolling gait common to those accustomed to a sea life. He moved along the wharf past the busy nightlife. His weathered, fair complexion received a few stares, but in this place of the anonymous, most people didn’t give him a second glance. For he had made an effort to adapt to this southern heat, exchanging his thick wool based fabrics for loose fitting cottons and silks, though he was loathe to forsake his boots. They thudded reassuringly onto the dusty street. <BR><BR>Catching a glimpse of himself in a bronze mirror that invited him into yet another stew, he was taken aback for a second. Life at sea had hardened his frame, he was not tall, but was now stocky, his hair fell well combed to his shoulders, and the padded jerkin fitted well. His left bicep was swathed in a bandage, which he smoothed self consciously, then moving on before he drew the attention of the resident madame. The scents of the markets wafted outwards, and he headed in that direction, following Bal’s directions to meet his contact.
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Postby Impenitent » Sun Apr 11, 2004 6:22 am

Rautha’s news about Basri’s arrest hit Aviel hard. Despite the danger, up until then the whole escapade had seemed like an exhilarating game. He had put very little thought or planning into the theft, having simply responded on impulse to Nectar’s outrageous dare; he had put no thought at all into the possible consequences. That Basri should pay the price of his irresponsibility was the worst consequence he could have imagined, excepting only the death of Nectar or his close companions.<BR><BR>Aviel’s jaws clenched tightly, his face a mask to his emotions as he heard Rautha’s story to the end. Then he put down his glass, rested his elbows on the table and pressed his face into his hands. All trace of his lighthearted good nature evaporated. He sat in silence for a moment, his hands covering his eyes, considering what to say to Rautha that could possibly make that look on his face go away. A small murmur of conversation started among the patrons in the bar, and Avi suspected that it probably had something to do with Zafira’s entrance into the coffeehouse. He sighed deeply and looked back at his two table companions, his hands clasped and supporting his chin. Rautha’s face was still, but Avi knew him well enough to see the deep displeasure and disappointment – and anger, too, at his stupidity. Ashe’s face was closed but he was watching Aviel with a meaningful look in his eyes.<BR><BR><em> “ So, Nectar is safe? Does she know about Basri?” </em> Rautha reassurance about Nectar was a small comfort ; Dhurma would be with her by now.<BR><BR><em> “Alright. I’ll tell you both the whole story …” </em> He held up his hands for their indulgence as he saw Rautha’s look of impatience, for what more was there to tell? He’d stolen the most treasured and recognizable jewel of the south! <em> “Just listen a minute! I don’t mean the gem…there’s something of far greater import! Please!…</em> Rautha held his peace, though Avi thought he detected a flicker of disappointment in Ashe’s eyes; the gem was obviously of substantial import to him.<BR><BR>Aviel glanced surreptitiously around the room, checking the patrons for any sign of suspicion before he told his story. Of course, they all looked somewhat suspicious, some involved in whispered conversations; others in raucous, drunken carousing – this was the Snake Pit, after all. Still, that group of five young northerners – they dressed like northerners, anyway – were in close huddle and more than one glanced his way; and there was a woman at a table in a far corner, sipping hot punch and carving on a block of wood. She was almost invisible, so closely did she hold herself apart though her face seemed strangely shadowed at this distance, inconsistent with the fall of the dim lamp lights. He could see the flicker of her eyes turned towards him. Avi turned back to Ashe and Rautha, and kept his voice low.<BR><BR><em> “Before I was discovered, I overheard a conversation. It was between the Governor and a man who kept himself in the shadows. I never saw his face but he was there alone – the Governor had sent all his guards out of the Star Chamber – and they were talking about a …scheme...” </em> and here Avi hesitated, knowing that it would sound as fantastic to them as it had first sounded to him…<em> “It was a Wolf captain, and the Governor is paying this man - bribing him or blackmailing him, I couldn’t tell – to turn traitor against the Brotherhood and get his crew to work for him, for the Governor, to be his partner…”</em><BR><BR>There was a sudden stillness and Rautha’s face now expressed incredulity which was a significant improvement on the preceding look of displeasure, disappointment and anger. The look on Ashe’s face, on the other hand, seemed an interesting mix of excitement and satisfaction. His voice was extraordinarily calm and business-like when he spoke.<BR><BR><em> “Aviel, start at the very beginning. Start with the state of the Star Chamber before you entered it…” </em> Avi needed no further urging.<BR><BR>******<BR><BR>Basri sat cross-legged in dignified silence on the bare stone floor of his cell in the City watch house. The Sergeant with the nasty disposition had spent a little time taunting him but he had not been harmed – partly because there was something about the bearing and dignity of the desert bred which seemed to demand respect but mainly because he suspected that his Captain, Elin, would be displeased by his actions when he returned from his visit to The Knotted Snake. The prisoner was not helpful but he wasn’t deliberately unhelpful either. He simply maintained a stoic silence, occasionally bestowing a glance of contempt at a passing guardsman.<BR><BR>So Basri was left alone, with a pitcher of water, in the secure cell – the bars were particularly solid and strong, the walls solid rock; they wanted no acrobatic feats of heroics to facilitate his escape. He waited. He knew that his troupe would not stand idle and he hoped that the Captain to which the Guardsmen deferred would be a more straightforward man that his officer – when he finally turned up.<BR><BR>But Basri was patient. He was desert-bred, after all.<BR>
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Postby Errand » Sun Apr 11, 2004 6:22 pm

By the time Aviel finished his solemn recitation of events past, Ashe began to snicker. In another second it turned into a full bodied guffawing.<BR><BR>"<em><strong>HAW HAW HAAW!!</strong></em>" Some heads turned and a few drunks woke groggily from their self induced stupor by this sudden outburst. As it was nothing out of the ordinary in the Snake Pit (and what exactly <em>was</em> out of the ordinary for these patrons anyway?) heads turned back or drooped sleepily back down. Fortunately, Ashe calmed down in a moment and proceeded to pour himself another cup of râka. <BR><BR>Grinning crookedly, he pointed at Aviel. "You're a real piece of work, you know that? Just flipped and jumped your way through, hey? One single guy... heh heh! " Ashe was clearly amused at Aviel while at the same time rather impressed by his feat. But there was a hint of irony beneath his words and his eyes seemed to look far away for a moment. <BR>"All this on a bet with your baby sister too... hell, I got a sister myself back home but this is flutterin' ridiculous."<BR><BR>He turned a little more serious then and his voice softened. "Looks like you either let your uncle rot in a cell, and chances are rotting won't be the worst of it; or you turn yourself in. No guarantee they'll let your uncle go even then, of course."<BR><BR>They were blunt words and judging from Rautha's less than pleasant expression, not especially appreciated. Ashe shrugged as he sipped his drink. "Just laying out the whole picture. Hey, thanks for the drink by the way. Damn nice of you." Turning to Aviel, he tilted his head to one side and just stared at the man, as if inspecting him in a different light. <BR><BR>"Anway," he resumed. "Like I said, it looks like you're screwed either way and honor's going to demand you turn yourself in. Unless you got something else in mind. Normally, I wouldn't give a damn, but I've never been real fond of that saggy faced bast***.<BR>"What I'm trying to say is that if you decide you want to go all out, if you want to put it all on the line and try to save yourself and your uncle, you can count me in this mess." <BR><BR>Rautha glanced skeptically at Aviel, then at Ashe. "Half the men in Umbar have a grudge against the governor. It is a small thing to put one's faith in, though you tried Aviel before."<BR><BR>"It's a bit abrupt I admit," the fisherman replied, staring at the little glass he held. "And I'm only one man. But the offer still stands."<BR><BR>He poured some more of the strong liquor and leaned back against a wall. Ashe looked to Aviel. "You know there's a sewer system beneath the palace? Connects to a lot of rooms too. There's about a dozen drainage points outside that can take you into the whole mess. Trouble is, it's a damn maze down there. A guy can spend months looking for just the right place to pop out. Maybe even years."<BR><BR>Ashe gave the acrobat a shrewd look and leaned forward. "Some guys actually tried to break their way in through the sewers a year or two back. Long story short, they popped up in the wrong place. Got slaughtered, though they gave a good fight. The palace tried to keep quiet about the break-in but you know how rumor gets around. <BR>"So they mess around a bit, block off some passages, make a few new ones, post a few guards at choice locations, even a few traps from what I've heard. It's still possible to break in, but it's one hell of a risk if you go in blind. Maybe if you could just get someone on the inside to make a little sketch... ah I'm getting ahead of myself here. That's what I get for drinking on an empty stomach. Ain't thinking right. Maybe you could talk your way out of it if you could get any proof about his plan, hey? A few whispers in the ears of the right people and you never know. Though that would take <em>time</em>..."<BR><BR>The chatter in the Snake Pit began to lessen as some of the more curious went off to see the Flower of the Desert. All well and good in the scheme of things. The place was getting crowded and the air was beginning to get well nigh unbreathable. Aviel's little theft had brought in a whole mass of people tonight. It was the proprietor who should shake the acrobat's hand.<BR>Pouring a <em>fourth</em> glass of the stuff (by this point he was just barely beginning to feel a little lightness in his head), Ashe propped his chin upon his fist. <BR><BR>"Well, it's just a thought," he said. "Just in case you don't figure anything better. It sounds crazy, but a guy like you, Aviel... you're a betting man if I've ever seen one. Maybe not at dice and cards, but bigger stakes I figure. A guy who goes flippin' into the palace can flop through the sewers too. Or whatever. Like I said, if you decide to put it all on the line, I'll help out if I can. I'm not going all <em>noble</em> on you or anything, I got something in this for me as well." <BR><BR>Ashe stretched his back and legs. He was feeling just fine with the world, no small thanks to Rautha's generosity. "Well, you got a few days at least. They always give a few days. I live over by the commons near the markets. Back of Sand Cat's Inn. You can find me there if you feel the need."<BR><BR>He then pointed a thumb vaguely in the direction of the five northeners sitting at a table a little aways. "So what about that prissy bunch that keeps looking this way?"
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Postby Tobias_Red-tail » Tue Apr 13, 2004 7:53 pm

Zequiel had been taking notice of the strange band that had assembled at the table nearby ever since the oldest of the three had asked his question, as to whether anyone knew of the thief. That comment about shaking the thief's hand, of course, had nearly provoked Sachairi into another outburst, while Zequiel's eyes had blazed with sapphirine fire. But fortunately for the man, and perhaps for the five, since had Zequiel allowed his followers to become antagonistic, they would have missed the coming revelations. First, the oldest man, apparently named Rautha from what they could make of the conversation, had chosen to answer his own question by heading off to join a young man puffing away on a pipe of some sort, and as eavesdropping on the conversation proved, his name was Ashe. And lastly, the strange man with an extremely dark moustache and beard was probably the real thief, seeing the relief that had shown itself on the faces of the other two.<BR><BR>Although the trio had kept their voices low throughout their discussion, they had managed to overhear parts of the conversations, thanks to long practice of eavesdropping on nearly every conversation of potential value, until the boisterous laughter and insults grew too loud for even their trained ears to pick up traces of their exchange. They had made a decent show of chatting among themselves, yet they could not resist the temptation of taking the occasional glimpse of the three fascinating people, more to confirm if the face they associated with the voice was correct, more than any curiosity over their actual appearance.<BR><BR>They had been content to simply listen to the conversation that went on, finding out more information about the theft of the Star, until the words of Ashe, as they identified the speaker with the accents that bore a striking resemblance to that used by the fishermen, rose loud enough to be slightly audible above the voices, insults, and raucous laughter that filled the Pit. <BR><BR>"So what about that prissy bunch that keeps looking this way?" <BR><BR>And that offhanded comment was naturally sufficient to provoke a reaction from all five of them, even from Kyren and Eterne, the two most quiet members of the five, for Eterne's eyes changed from the light gray of a winter's sky to resemble the darker, and more wrathful, color of thunderclouds just before a storm, and Kyren's grip had tightened around the longknives that hung by his waist, until his knuckles lost their color and turned white. Jorael had once again helped the ladies off his lap in a gallant gesture, before preparing to draw his sword from its scabbard by his side. The patrons nearby sensed a fight coming, and all happened to remember important business on the other side of the room, away from any possible fights between the two parties. Yet before any possibly rash actions were undertaken, Zequiel had slowly shook his head, the movement barely visible to any save his companions. They eased themselves, including the hotheaded Sachairi who had once again nearly sent his stool skidding across the length of the room, and turned to him. Although Zequiel's eyes had begun to blaze with sapphirine fire once again, the fires were quickly dowsed as he strolled over to them, turning back to their previous crystalline hue.<BR><BR>In an almost nonchalant manner, he dropped himself into the last empty seat at their table, and casually signaled a drink from the barkeeper, before turning to them, enjoying the reactions they exhibited at the appearance of the stranger who had decided to join their discussion. Before any of them could open their mouths to voice any protests they might have for this newcomer, Zequiel spoke first, his voice coolly civil, yet with an underlying hint of a threat, one further exemplified by his companions drawing closer to their table, taking seats at the tables around theirs after chasing away the previous occupants with no more than a stare, and a comfortable grip around the hilts of their weapons.<BR><BR>"My dear friend Ashe, for you are Ashe, are you not?" he said while eying the fisherman, "I do believe you called us 'prissy'. I can accept the label as a jest, although some of my companions might find that a little challenging to do, and I hope that you had indeed intended it to be as such. And as for the other two of you, I couldn't help but overhear snippets of your conversation, and so, as a party inadvertently dragged into this by the accusation of a particularly rude example of a guard, I am forced to ask you what exactly happened earlier tonight, with the theft of the Star of the Sea, by one of you, I suppose. Those snippets are hardly enough for me to understand the complete going ons, so I would be indebted to you indeed, if the three of you might enlighten me on this whole rather curious business about the theft. Not that it was not well done, I suppose, seeing how you managed to escape all the guards in your path. So now, gentlemen, if you will be so kind? Any drinks you may need to wet your throats before speaking will be on me, so please, feel free to order what you wish. Oh, and I believe you mentioned a break into the palace dungeons? I could help you there, you know. There are only three of you, against a whole company of guards. If you will explain to me what exactly is going on, I promise you that my associates and I will be delighted to assist you in storming the jail, should any more help be required. So what do you think?"
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Postby AurabellaBolger » Wed Apr 14, 2004 6:37 am

Rozenwyn was carving the face of her figure. She found the chiseling of faces the most difficult aspect of her woodwork, yet the most important. Her ambition was always to make faces so detailed that they seemed to move and breathe, to make it seem that a soul gazed out from the wooden visage. She liked to imagine that her carvings had souls, foolish as she knew such imagining to be; she liked to think that some particle of life slipped into the wood through the tips of her fingers -- or at the very least some fraction of her own soul, her self. She had spread her self wide in the carving of her figures, and the selling of them; bits of her self were now spread over all different parts of the city, from shabby gray hovels in which things of beauty were scarce to ornate mansions in which a plain wood carving was likely to get lost among the gold-gilt knick-knacks. In that respect, she was everywhere.<BR>"But that's supremely foolish," she muttered to herself, carefully working with the point of her smallest knife to fashion eyes and eyelids. "I'm here -- this one little patch. When folk of fashion come to this corner of the world to gape, that's when my fingers go to work in another way." Served them right, too, when they came to the poverty-festering quarters in search of adventure, with never a thought for those trapped in them, mired in squalor, as incapable of movement as these wooden dolls. Her fingers tingled with a wish that a fancy coach might come barreling down the street right now. She would leap onto the back of it and ride, then see just where it went and plan what do to when it stopped and its passengers disembarked.<BR>She considered, for a moment, her own position. Did she include herself among the "trapped," immobile tenement dwellers? She had lived here, in a small room just across the path from the Knotted Snake, all her adult life, and had reflected more than once on how pleasant it might be to gaze from her window in the morning on a view of green meadows, or even blue ocean waves, and not this gray/brown cityscape. But she had money. She had given most of her "takings" away, and had even enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing others flee the tenements and hovels thanks to her quick and clever fingers, but she had kept a portion of them, plus her earnings from her woodwork. Her woodwork had brought her minor fame; respectable folk came to her selling-table to admire her wares and (usually) to buy. She could leave this place if she wanted to.<BR>So why didn't she? If she hated the place -- and she did -- why did she not leave?<BR><BR>She shook her head and directed her gaze toward the striking acrobats across the room, for the woman was her model for the carving. She liked them, she decided. She liked the way they talked, the obvious closeness among them. Their cameraderie made such a contrast to the scowls and sidelong suspicious glances on all the other faces. She was surprised the owner of this establishment did not hang a sign over the bar reading NEVER TRUST ANYONE. Why not? The place was famous for the untrustworthy nature of its clientele. She fit right in. Yet the acrobats, somehow, did not.<BR>"How would it be," she mumbled to herself, "if I went over and spoke to them?" That would give these beautiful folk a good look at her face, which she was not sure she wanted, but she found that for this one night, she was tired of hearing the air around her thick with dozens of conversations, none of which included her. Most of the talk naturally centered around the famous prized jewel that had been so unaccountably stolen, and she had a degree of curiosity about this herself.<BR>She rose from her chair and started toward the company, trying to fashion her lips into a natural smile and finding it difficult. When at last she reached them, she said simply, "Do you mind if I sit here, a bit closer? I'm an artist, you see" -- she held up her wood-plank and knife -- "and I want to make some carvings that look like you."
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Postby GlassHouse » Wed Apr 14, 2004 10:08 am

Nectar;<em>>“This uproar over the Star of Feanor – well, they think that Aviel has stolen it; well, actually, he has stolen it. He broke in to the Citadel and took it and now the whole city is after him – and the City Guard have been to our quarters looking for him and they’ve taken Basri! Oh!”"</em> <BR><BR><BR>Brandir took a deep breath and watched Nectar's eyes as the story of her bet with Avi flowed from her. His first thought was that the girl was feverishness, but the look on Dhurma 's face and the story of Basri's arrest convinced him otherwise. <BR><BR>Could it be true? Was Avi responsible for the chaos in the city streets? Why would he do such a thing? Surely he realized the Governor's most treasured jewel would be much too conspicuous to sell. There <em>must</em> be more to it than a bet and a dare with his sister! It seemed to make no sense to Brandir. <BR>It was true that he had not known Avi very long - but a successful gambler learns to read people and he was sure that the young acrobat was no fool. Avi was a gambler, like himself and not unskilled. He was certainly smart enough to calculate the odds of success and to weigh them carefully against the risks of failure, capture, torture.... No, if it <em>was</em> true that Avi was behind this, then there had to be more to it than what Nectar had told him - or perhaps more than she knew herself... <BR><BR>Once more he checked his breathing and made sure he was in control before he tried to speak. <BR>He hated to Nectar so distressed, and seeing her so made him realize just how strong his feeling for her had grown. He dared to reach across the table to take the hand of the beautiful acrobat, <BR>(<em>"a women whom poets should write epics about..."</em>) <BR>"Do not worry, we don't know for sure it was Avi, do we." he said in his most reassuring voice (as he might use to comfort a child who had woken from a dark dream). "...and many people have been detained by the guards tonight. I'm sure Basri will be released. They'll questioned him and see he has no connection to whatever has happened and let him go, I'm sure of it."<BR><BR>Nectar did not move or react at once. She seemed to weigh his words.<BR>Much of the meaning of words lies in how they are spoken —their sounds and accompanying gestures- and though Brandir's words left much unspoken, their meaning was clear enough.<BR> <BR>Dhurma shifted uncomfortably, cleared his throat loudly and gave Brandir a critical stare - which made Brandir reluctantly withdraw his hand from Nectar's. He was about to say something else to try and comfort her and perhaps to get some more details of the story, when they were approached by a woman who's face, at first glance seemed to be half in shadow.<BR><BR><em>>"Do you mind if I sit here, a bit closer? I'm an artist, you see" -- she held up her wood-plank and knife -- "and I want to make some carvings that look like
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Postby Errand » Thu Apr 15, 2004 2:01 pm

Ashe watched the proceedings while drinking his fifth glass. "So they were doing more than just looking." he commented dryly. "Surprise, surprise."<BR><BR>The three looked on as the five northeners became quite visibly upset, going so far as to grab the handle of their weapons until their leader, an older man, calmed them. So much for their cover. They were definitely a touchy bunch if nothing else, hotheaded and easily offended. Ashe figured he would have to be careful.<BR>A slight glance passed between Aviel and Rautha, and it seemed to Ashe as if the two had communicated to each other in that short time their eyes met. <BR><BR>The man who introduced himself as Zequiel exuded a nonchalant and confident air as he sat down on the cusions next to them without invitation and proceeded with his tale in a slightly threatening, arrogant (yet ever so well mannered) way. Then, he offered them drinks.<BR>"I should go to this place more often," Ashe said to no one in particular. "People are throwing me drinks left and right." Nonetheless, he did not take up Zequiel's offer. Nor did he appear any less calmer than the suave Northener and his four companions suddenly seating themselves all around. <BR><BR>Ashe looked to Zequiel with a little smirk. "I don't give a hobbit's ass if your pals feelings' are hurt. Maybe they shouldn't be sticking their nose where it don't belong."<BR><BR>If Ashe was intimidated by Zequiel's words, his own less then genteel speech did not show it. He was betting on the fact that if the northeners wanted to avoid being suspected by guards, then a public fight in a notorious tavern was the last thing they would attempt. <BR><em>If they got any sense, anyway.</em> the fisherman thought wryly. <em>Four of 'em looked like they were going to come over and cut me up, right then and there.</em><BR><BR>"Tell you what," Ashe continued, leaning back against the wall. "I'll take your drinks as an apology for snooping around. We'll call it even and go back to our own ways. Just a hunch, but I figure none of us can afford anymore trouble for the night."
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Postby Zafira » Fri Apr 16, 2004 2:42 pm

Zafira swept aside the curtains of her palanquin and gracefully descended to the ground, being careful to show twice as much shapely ankle as was necessary and leaning on the arms of no less than two of the guardsmen. She fluttered her effusive thanks to them and stretched out both her hands to the young lieutenant, <BR><BR><em>“Oh Captain! Thank you so much! You can’t imagine how much safer I felt knowing all you wonderful, big strong men were protecting me!”</em> <BR><BR>Seeing Yusuf rolling his eyes behind the guardsman’s back, Zafira very nearly slipped into a petulant frown, but catching herself just in time, she swept her mouth into a wide and dazzling smile instead,<BR><BR> <em>“Now I know you must rush of to search for this dreadful rogue! No, no please don’t feel that you have to waste any more of your time on silly me, the governor must have his best man on the case!”</em> <BR><BR>Gratified by the young man’s blushing confusion, he would certainly remember nothing but her from this night; she pressed a small, but heavy, purse into his hands.<BR><BR><em> “I realise you can’t possibly come into the tavern now, but I hope you will treat your gallant companions to drink in my name after you come of duty?”</em><BR><BR>The men cheered their thanks and several called her name or whistled making Zafira dimple and smile prettily, she was never one to miss a chance to further her popularity after all!<BR><BR>Stepping daintily over the cobbles, the many small bells on her costume tinkling with every moment, Zafira stopped to greet profusely every acquaintance on her way to the door of the Snake, a small crowd of locals began to gather and she was sure that all eyes were on her, and surely no one would be interested in any scruffy men in ill-fitting clothes when they could watch her instead!<BR><BR>By the time she ducked under the tasselled curtain of the entrance, Dombur, the tavern keeper was waiting to greet her, wreathed in smiles and bowing low, she could hear her name being murmured on many tongues – what a treat for the patrons that she should visit them!<BR><BR>She waved away Dombur’s insistence that he clear out his very best booth for her use and scanned the room for Aviel’s sister,<BR><BR><em> “Dombur, please no fuss! I am here, entirely incognito of course, to spend some simple, quiet time with a very dear friend! If you could perhaps just bring me some of that lovely, ruby wine I hear you import all the way from Minas Tirith? And a scented candle or two, vanilla I think, not cinnamon. Oh and some honeyed figs? And maybe a few extra cushions…” </em><BR><BR>Dombur backed away hurriedly before the Flower could think of any more “simple” and “no fuss” items to add to the growing list and, flanked by two of her glowering bearers, hands clearly resting of their sabres in case anyone should chance to recognise Zafira despite her protestations of being incognito, the dancer made her way across to the booth where she assumed sat Nectar.<BR><BR>Her first glance of the girl had made her eyes narrow, she was far too pretty! Even dressed as plainly as she was, there was no denying Nectar was a beauty, this Zafira most decidedly did <u>not</u> like, she preferred to be by far the most interesting woman in any room. But further thought made her feel better, the girl was slender where she had curves and her colouring was day to Zafira’s night, they would contrast each other nicely! One could always see a silver lining to even the most disastrous circumstances if one really tried!<BR><BR>Gliding smoothly over the floor, hips swaying in her typical dancer’s walk Zafira approached the booth and her soft cry of pleasure further ensured that all eyes were riveted on her,<BR><BR><em> “Nectar my dear! How wonderful it is to see you! Come and let me hug you!”</em> <BR><BR>As the girl rose to her feet in some confusion, Zafira swept her up into a perfumed embrace of silk and bells.<BR><BR><em>“I have news of Aviel, he is safe for now. Say nothing to contradict me and I shall explain it all to you in a moment!”</em> Zafira hissed this last into the girl’s ear and then raising her voice she could not resist adding in a much louder tone<em> “But my dear! Whatever have you been doing to yourself, you look dreadfully peaky. Positively haggard in fact! Come, let us sit and exchange news.”</em> <BR><BR>Noting the other inhabitants of the booth; an older man, whom she assumed from his colouring was a relative of Nectar and Avi’s, and a younger man with wild hair and a mouth open in startlement, she waved her bearers to positions on either side of the booth and settled herself down on the couch. Where was that man with her extra cushions? <BR><BR>Explaining the events of the evening to a wide eyed Nectar, (really those eyes were irritatingly blue!) she ensured that they were all aware of how brave and resourceful she had been and how obstinate and foolish Aviel had been in return. Though as members of his family she had no doubt that they knew how awkward he could be! When Nectar realised that Avi was no further away than the next room she half rose as if to go through and see for herself, restraining her gently Zafira shook her head, <BR><BR><em>“No my dear, that would not be wise…but I’m sure we can think of someway for us all to enter the pit! I never have gone in and really it would be quite shocking! But…” </em>and here her lips curved up into an expectant smile, <em>“I do believe it would be equally as thrilling!”</em><BR><BR>--------------------------------------------------------------------------<BR><BR>Watching his charge disappear inside the Snake, Yusuf hesitated before following her. He didn’t trust the young scallywag that was for sure, the nonsense he had flattered his little blossom with had been bad enough, but to embroil her in his criminal activities was just too much!<BR><BR>Ducking back into the litter to retrieve his scroll case, Yusuf raised his eyebrows at the chaos that met his gaze, so the man was messy as well as a thief with appalling taste in clothes. This just got worse and worse!<BR><BR>Straightening the cushions and throws, Yusuf’s brows drew back down and settled into a heavy frown...what on earth was this tucked in underneath? <BR><BR>Leaving the litter some moments later and looking grim, Yusuf stumped after his mistress. Had anyone been observing him closely they might have noticed that he was clutching the scroll case just a little tighter than usual.
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Postby JasonChase » Fri Apr 16, 2004 5:05 pm

Kronk had looked all around the docks, inquiring of some of the Captains and watching and listening for anything suspicious. None of the seamen or dockworkers he had spoken with had seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary. In fact, there were a couple that were shocked to learn the Star had been taken.<BR>Kronk waited around for an hour or so, watching a ship come into port.<BR>'Surely the thief will not be arriving in port,' Kronk thought to himself. 'And waiting here is not accomplishing anything. Azul's contacts will surely let us know if they find anything.'<BR>With that Kronk turned and headed back towards the manor, walking briskly, sometimes at a jog, weaving in and out of people and even stopping to sincerely apologize if he did jostle someone. It was immediatly after one of these near misses of an elderly gentleman, after Kronk had turned his head slightly to the man and offered the briefest of nods along with an apology - he looked back in the direction he was running, rounded a corner and collided hard with another man. <BR>A man reddened and hardened by the sea. Kronk stumbled and nearly fell as he sent the man he had bumped sprawling into the street, landing a few feet away. And to make matters worse, Kronk could see that one of the mans arms, his left upper arm was wrapped in a bandage.<BR>Kronk winced, his heart sinking. His deep, baritone voice rang out as he approached the man, "I am so, so sorry sir. Are you hurt? I am in a hurry to report back to my lord."<BR>Kronk bent down and gripping the man in his big hands hefted him up, lifting him to his feet, helping to brush some of the dirt and dust from the stranger.<BR>Shaking his head, "I am very sorry sir."<BR><BR><BR><BR><BR>Just after Kronk left, Azul had gone upstairs and<BR>changed clothing. He chose a white silk shirt under a light blue jacket; a fairly<BR>plain pair of baggy trousers; and his well-polished shoes. He placed a red fez upon his head, a gift offered to him by a local clothing maker shortly after arriving in Umbar. He did not wear it often as he did not much care for the fasions of Umbar, but this hat, this gift, he did think he looked rather dashing in. He picked up his cane,given to him by a dear friend in Rohan, the curved bronze grip in the shape of a horse's head. And after giving himself the once over in one of his large polished silver mirrors, he headed out.<BR><BR>He decided to go to a few 'commoner' bars and pubs in<BR>hopes of learning more about the Star. It was a long<BR>shot, he knew, but it had been a while since he revisited his roots and remembered how the other half lived. For Azul, before becoming a wealthy merchant and business man,<BR>had been poor. Every so often he would go back to where he came from, and now was that time again...<BR><BR>After stopping in to make inquiries at a few of the local taverns, Azul was directed to the<BR>Knotted Snake or the Snake Pit, one and the same, depending on whether you were having coffee out front or if you're getting into who knows what trouble in back.<BR><BR>After stopping in for a quick cup of coffee, Azul proceeded around the building to the rear. And, He found the unmarked entry, walked down the narrow corridor to the bar door, stopped to draw a deep breath and threw the door open, hearing it hit the wall with a dull *thud*. Azul entered...<BR><BR>"Gypsies, tramps, and thives." He muttered under his breath.<BR><BR>All eyes were on him, which was fine, he was a man deserving of attention. And after quickly scanning the slightly smokey room, making eye contact with all that would have it, he strolled in.<BR><BR>His cane tapped on the floor with each step... *tick........tick..........tick.......tick* He made his way to the bar, even earning an odd look from the bartender. "I would like..." Azul paused... "Something strong. Bring it out to my table please."<BR>Another brief pause...<BR>"In a clean glass...if you have one"<BR><BR>And Azul turned, scanning the room again, watching everyone a moment...there was one table in particular filled with all sorts of ne'er-do-wells. Holding everyone's gaze Azul walked over to a table near the 'crowded' table to take a seat. He casually reached into a hidden pocket in his jacket and pulled out a light blue hankerchief. He set it lightly down over the threadbare cushion that covered the bench, and then rested his posterier on the hankie. He set his hat gingerly on the table.<BR><BR>And with a slightly amused smile Azul looked at the group of people all gathered at the one table and moved his hands in a circular motion...<BR><BR>"Please...continue"<BR>
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JasonChase
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