Born Beneath the Shadow

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

Born Beneath the Shadow

Postby Celebria » Fri Jun 30, 2006 2:56 am

It had not been a good day.

Celebria watched as the tall man exited the inn and disappeared into the wind. She could not blame him, not really. She knew what he was thinking no doubt. A young woman in need translated into little more than glorified babysitting. Or so he thought. She had never seen him before, a ranger by the look of him. Probably stationed in Ithilien.

Celebria stood and replaced the hood of her cloak with a wry smile. Apparently, her dark grey cloak rather hid more than she realized. She left the inn and entered the rainy night. It was late and the streets of Minas Tirith were largely deserted at this hour. She supposed she could spend
the rest of the night there, but Celebria was tired of waiting.

Mounting her horse, Celebria rode through the streets until she reached the stone cottage she had lived in with her parents before they left for the North. She entered but did not light a lamp. Her keen green eyes did not require extra light. She tossed the cloak aside and changed out of the gown she wore, exchanging it for a pair of grey leggings and a knee-length pale green tunic she had fashioned for herself. Replacing the cloak, she left the small room that had served as her own personal quarters. Walking to a tall cupboard, she lifted her sword and unsheathed it. The glimmer of the smooth steel comforted her. It used to belong to her mother before she had left Rivendell to begin a new life with a southern ranger from Gondor.

Replacing the sword, Celebria slid it onto her back. Her father had had the harness made especially for her as she disliked anything encumbering her waist. Picking up a pair of matched daggers, she slid one into each of her tall riding boots. They were Dwarven in make and fine workmanship. Finally, she reached for her bag and a blanket and slipped an extra set of clothes inside along with some dried fruit. Glancing one last time at the place she once called home, Celebria turned her back and left.

Nahar stood patiently waiting for her. Celebria tied down her bag and mounted. A man leaving one of the taverns walked past, glancing curiously at her. Celebria turned her face away and spoke to Nahar. Her only companion galloped over the wet stones, his golden mane rippling in the chill breeze.

She had never quite gotten used to being stared at, though as a maid who had inherited her mother's fine Elvish features, she had certainly received more than her fair share of surprised glances. Still, not many in Gondor knew an elf and her halfelven daughter had dwelt among them, for Andrais and Ninui had lived quiet, unassuming lives doing what they could to minimize the differences, and Celebria had spent the last several years living in Rohan.

Celebria and Nahar left the White City and turned toward the north. She had had no luck finding someone to aid her in her quest. She would wait no longer to discover why her parents had never returned from their mission to take an important message to the Dunedain in the North. She had prayed to the Valar to give her wisdom and show her the way. Though it was not what she had expected, the answer had come. She would go alone...
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Postby Celebria » Fri Jun 30, 2006 5:47 pm

Celebria was bent low over Nahar’s neck as he flew along the road. Some time ago it had bent to the left and now she was traveling west. The jagged peaks of the Ered Nimrais rose in the distance on her left and the plains of Anorien stretched to the River Anduin on her right. The pounding cadence of Nahar’s hooves was smooth and rhythmic and Celebria glanced toward the mountains, silently rehearsing in her mind the line of beacons that linked Gondor and Rohan. Amon Din, Eilenach, Nardol, Erelas…

Celebria’s father had served two stewards of Gondor in various capacities, most of them military. He was the former ambassador to the princedom of Dol Amroth, but three years ago had been reassigned to Rohan. He was not currently in favor with the steward, who had grown distrustful and suspicious of some in his court, Andrais among them. So it was that Celebria’s father had gladly accepted the new post in the realm of his old friend.

The leagues passed quickly until Celebria reached the border dividing Gondor and Rohan. A smile curved her lips for in this land she had made many friends. Brought to Edoras at the age of thirteen, Celebria had been taken into the king’s household when King Theoden had asked Andrais to serve as a captain in his military. It was a time when Rohan needed to rapidly expand its forces to effectively deal with a growing threat, and Andrais was an experienced soldier who had trained and led many troops into battle. Rohan was experiencing ever-increasing raids by orcs and wargs to the east and now, inexplicably, to the west as well. Andrais and Ninui had agreed, traveling throughout Rohan bolstering its units and facilitating communications between the eoreds and Meduseld.

Celebria and Nahar passed through the open plains of the eastfold, an area familiar to her due to the fact that once she had completed her formal studies she began joining her parents in their travels. Hoof beats sounded in the distance and a lone rider topped the hill ahead. Celebria slowed Nahar and watched the rider’s approach. She soon recognized him as Aldor, a young outrider she had met two years ago in one of the many camps she had visited.

“Aldor!” Celebria called.

Aldor’s freckled face registered surprise. “Celebria! What are you doing here? You are not alone, are you?” he asked in his own tongue.

“Actually, I am,” she replied in like kind. “My father and mother have traveled North about an urgent matter, but that was many months ago and they have not returned. My father never mentioned the nature of the errand and I am hoping King Theoden might know.”

Aldor was lightly armored and carried a bow and quiver on his back. A long sword was within easy reach by his saddle. “You are in luck,” he replied. “I am also riding to Edoras with reports for the king. Come. We shall go together.”

Celebria was grateful for the company and put many questions to Aldor. “How goes it here in Rohan? Is the king and his family well? Have the raids lessened at all?”

“The raids have not let up. If anything, they are worse. And now the villages are being attacked as well.”

“The villages? By orcs?”

“Yes. And wargs. The orcs have somehow managed to command them as mounts.”

Celebria was silent. This was fell news indeed.

Aldor glanced over his shoulder as though afraid of being overheard. “Celebria, something very disturbing has been happening. The villages are being attacked while their eoreds are called out.”

Celebria could not believe this. Eoreds were the military divisions of Rohan. Each village of size and smaller groups of settlements were required to send out eoreds to patrol the land and defeat enemies on a rotating schedule. If a village was attacked at such a time, it was, for all practical purposes, defenseless. In order for what Aldor was suggesting to be possible, it would mean…

Celebria gazed off into the distance. “Someone in the king’s court is a traitor.”

“Yes, and the king has not been himself lately.”

“What do you mean? Is he ill?”

“Not in the usual sense. It’s as though…” Aldor’s voiced trailed away. “Perhaps you should wait and see for yourself.”

Celebria was very distressed by her conversation with Aldor. She was now more eager than ever to reach the capital and speak with her friends.
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Postby Celebria » Sat Jul 01, 2006 8:24 pm

The two travelers were a day’s ride from Edoras when they spotted riders in the distance. As they approached, Aldor laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Just what we need,” he murmured. “Trouble.”

“You know these men?”

“Unfortunately. They are Grima’s lackeys.”

Celebria’s green eyes did not waver from the two men riding toward them. “Grima has his own men?”

“Yes, and these are not the only ones.”

The rather rough-looking men drew up directly before Celebria and Aldor. The taller of the two eyed Aldor. “What have we here? “ he asked, glancing at the papers in Aldor’s saddle bag. “Reports from the camps? I think you better give those to me,” he said with an air of authority.

Aldor’s pale eyes narrowed. “I am the king’s courier and I shall deliver the reports,” he said evenly.

“We have been instructed by Counselor Grima to give any and all reports to him.”

Aldor’s face flushed with anger. “Get out of our way, Daegon.”

Daegon moved his horse even closer to Aldor. “Do you really intend to fight us over this?” He glanced with amusement at Celebria. “It hardly seems a fair fight, two against one.”

Celebria lifted her chin. “I agree. Now if you will move out of the way perhaps we will not need to press our advantage.”

Daegon’s lip curled with contempt. He and his companion reached for their swords. Celebria and Aldor drew theirs. The first strike was predictable and Celebria parried it easily. She waited for the next and when it came, she swung downward. Running the length of her blade along his, she flicked her wrist and knocked the sword from his hand. With the tip of her sword pressed to her antagonist’s neck, she glanced at Daegon. “Tell him to sheath his blade,” she ordered.

Aldor’s sword clanged against Daegon’s. The two men pressed hard until Aldor finally shoved him backward. “Daegon, stop! Let it go!”

Daegon looked into Aldor’s determined eyes and hesitated as though considering his chances of winning the fight. He drew his horse up and moved back. “This is not over, Aldor,” he hissed. Looking at Celebria, he pointed his sword. “As for you, you had better hope I never see you again. Pick up your sword!” he snapped at his friend.

Celebria and Aldor watched the two men ride in the direction of the Entwash. Aldor sheathed his weapon and glanced at Celebria. “Your father said you were good with a sword,” he remarked. “I thought he was just boasting.”

The sun was beginning to sink behind the mountains the next day when the two travelers gained Edoras. Celebria said goodbye to Aldor and went to the royal stables. Freolad was one of the stable hands there and a friend. “I see he’s looking as feisty as ever,” he remarked with a laugh when Celebria brought Nahar and asked for provisions for him. “Go on, then. I shall be happy to look after him.”
Celebria thanked Freolad and climbed the steps to the Great Hall. When she reached the top, she smiled. “Hello, Hama. How are you? How are Brytta and the children?”

Hama smiled with surprise. “Celebria! What brings you back to Edoras? Has Andrais come?”

“No, he has not, and that is the chief reason for my visit. I must ask King Theoden about him for I know he intended to speak with the king before heading north.”

Hama’s brow furrowed in concern. “Your father was here nearly a year ago. Are you saying he has not yet returned?”

“Yes. Please. I must speak with the king.”

Hama reached to open the heavy doors. “I shall announce you, although be aware that the king has been ill and does not receive many visitors.”

Celebria waited, but when the doors again opened it was not Hama coming to bid her enter the Golden Hall. It was instead Grima, Theoden’s counselor. “So, you want to see the king, do you? I am grieved to say he is very ill and cannot be disturbed. I am sorry that you have come so far for nothing.”

Celebria was not fooled by Grima’s cordial words and smooth tone. She could see the malice glittering in his eyes, hear the subtle triumph in his voice. Grima despised Andrais and his family. As far as he was concerned, the Gondorian ranger had far too much influence in the Rohan court. He further detested Celebria because she did not approve of his interest in Eowyn and knew that he had been stealing from the king’s treasuries.

“My request is urgent. If the king cannot see me, then I wish to speak with Prince Theodred.”

Grima smirked with satisfaction. “The prince is not here. He is still at Dunharrow and is not expected to return for several weeks yet.”

Celebria seriously doubted that King Theoden could not speak with her. Normally, she would be received gladly. She had lived in the palace while her parents served the king and had been schooled with Theodred who was only three years her senior.

She met Grima’s eyes defiantly. “Does the king even know I am here?” she asked quietly.

Grima’s face hardened and he turned his back on her. “Return home, Celebria. You and your family are no longer welcome.”

Celebria watched the massive doors to the Hall clang shut with finality. She stood there, feeling discouraged, as the last golden rays of sunshine faded into a purple twilight. Hama returned to his post and gave Celebria a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, lass. Grima controls nearly everything now. His influence has grown remarkably of late and few may approach the king without his permission.”

Celebria thought for a moment. Surely there was some way to reach the king…

“Hama, would it be possible for you to get word to Lady Eowyn that I am here? I would be in your debt.” Hama nodded his head. “I think I might be able to manage that for you.” He gave Celebria a fatherly pat on the shoulder. “Go on to the house now,” he encouraged. “Brytta will see you fed and given a place to rest for the night.”
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Postby Celebria » Sun Jul 02, 2006 1:15 pm

“Sing us another one, Celebria!”

Celebria laughed at the exuberant six-year-old. “Another? I have already sung three songs tonight.”

“Just one more before bed! Please?”

Celebria glanced at Brytta. “Well, if your mother says it is all right.”

Hama’s wife smiled at the youngest of her four children. “One more,” she agreed. “Then to bed with you.”

Celebria softly sang an Elvish lullaby that her mother used to sing to her when she was small. It made her miss her parents even more. As the children trundled off to bed, fear gripped her heart anew. She had to find them. A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts and Celebria rose to answer it.

A tall woman with golden hair and noble features stood before her. “Eowyn!” The two women embraced warmly.

“I could not believe it when Hama said you were here. He says something may have gone wrong with your parents’ journey.”

Celebria and the king’s niece stepped into the night to speak more privately. “I know something has happened. I can feel it. It has been too long. I need to know what my father told King Theoden about his plans.”

Eowyn sighed. “Even if I could grant you an audience with the king I do not think it would help you. He is not himself. I do not understand what is happening to him. It is as though he is growing old before his time. He is impatient and short with others, even Theodred, and half the time he does not seem to recognize those in his own court. Grima has taken advantage of this and his decisions are rarely challenged. I am sorry, Celebria.”

Celebria was frustrated. “My father never explained the reason for his urgency but he seemed very upset. If I cannot learn more of his errand or where he planned to go first, I will have a difficult time finding him.”

Eowyn looked hard at her friend. “You don’t mean to go looking for him alone, do you? That is madness! The mountains are crawling with orcs and you would have to travel through Dunland.”

“I am not afraid to pass through Dunland.”

Eowyn gripped Celebria’s arm as they walked. “The reports coming out of the Westfold are not good. Orcs are not the only ones raiding our villages.” Eowyn fell silent for a moment. “When your father was here, he mentioned discussing Lord Denethor’s request with someone he trusted, another ranger I think. Do you know who your father might have confided in?”

Celebria shook her head. “My father has many friends among the rangers and soldiers of Gondor both old and young. Did he not give a name?”

“He might have, but I did not hear the entire conversation. Think back to before your parents left. Did you ever see him meeting with anyone in particular?”

Celebria tried hard to remember the days before Andrais and Ninui left. She had no recollection of her father receiving any special guests or making any unusual trips…

“Wait! I do remember something. A few days before leaving, my father said he needed to go to Osgiliath. At the time, I assumed it was merely to explain that he would be gone for a while and to leave instructions with the captain taking his place at the fort. But perhaps not.”

“It is worth looking into. Whoever he spoke with likely knows something that could aid you. Besides, you should not go alone. You need a guide of some sort. Preferably someone who knows his way around a sword.”

Celebria sighed. “Eowyn, I have inquired at all but the very roughest inns and taverns in Minas Tirith. No one is traveling north right now. The few who would even speak to me either said it was too dangerous or gave me the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head and sent me on my way.” Tears filled Celebria’s eyes. “Returning to Gondor would mean the loss of a fortnight at least. I could be well past the Gap by then.”

Eowyn stopped walking and faced Celebria. “Say you will at least try to find this person. You begrudge a fortnight yet how many days will you lose aimlessly searching a strange land? You cannot traverse the whole of Arnor. You need help.” Eowyn gazed into the night. “If only I could go with you,” she whispered. “But I cannot. My…duty lies here.”

Celebria glanced at her friend. The resignation she heard in Eowyn’s voice caught at her heart. She took Eowyn’s arm and continued walking. “Does he still bother you?” she asked quietly.

Eowyn knew to whom Celebria referred. “Sometimes. If he sees an opportunity. I try not to give him any, but that is not always possible.”

“Has he touched you?” Celebria asked tightly.

“No, of course not. He would not dare. He knows Eomer and Theodred would kill him.”

“Yes, they would,” Celebria agreed. “Assuming they got to him first.”

Eowyn smiled slightly and embraced her friend. “I have missed you since you returned to the White City. I think perhaps you are the only one who truly understands what it is like to feel a certain way deep inside yet be expected to live another.”

Celebria could still see the growing hopelessness in Eowyn’s eyes as she clung to Nahar the next morning. She had reluctantly agreed go to Osgiliath and make one final attempt to learn something definite of her parents’ intentions. After that, it was time to brave the vast and perilous North…
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Mon Jul 03, 2006 2:45 pm

Outside the tavern Luke paused for a moment longer under the eaves. There was a light wind. Thankfully it was not enough to cause the rain to sweep under the shingles. The fluttering light of the sooty street lamps cast barely sufficient light to illuminate the gate to the stable. It was a scant ten feet away. Gritting his teeth he lunged across the distance, stepping twice before vaulting over the low gate. He was going to be getting soaked in a few minutes anyway, but he wanted to delay that discomfort for as long as possible.

“Hey old man,” Luke stroked the nose of the horse, which stuck its head out of the closest stall as soon as it heard his footsteps, “Ready? Heh, I’m not.”

The Black Roan was quickly saddled and saddlebags strapped in place. Luke pulled his hood up over his head again and pulled his cloak securely around him, then mounted his horse, “Right then.”

Within a minute after leaving the Taverns stable he found himself soaked. Ged trotted easily through the rough cobble stone streets, eventually winding down towards the main gate. At the gat itself two guards came forward to challenge Luke, but Luke moved his cloak aside and something gleamed in the night and the guards moved back, pushing the gate open enough for him to exit. Next came the long monotonous ride across Pelennor fields. First to Baorder of Rohan and Fanghorn, then hopefully home.

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

Serine Crouched on the roof low dwelling, overshadowed by the eves of the adjoining inn. Years of neglect had caused moss to grow up between the cracks in the flagstones that formed the slightly slanting roof on which he perched, creating somewhat of a comfortable roost. He leaned back in the impenetrable shadows watching the main gates of Osgiliath. His sources said that the messenger would be coming this way tonight.

His sources were of course very reliable. He had taken the usual excruciating care in extracting his information from the trembling lips of the informant. Red-hot blades and a bucket of cold water with small fish swimming about in it had been very effective in this particular case. He was positive he had not been lied to. He hadn’t even bothered asking any questions until the other man’s eyes had been wide with terror and all his limbs shaking from the pain.

Bellow him in the house lay another hapless victim. This one was merely a currier like the man he awaited now. He had questioned this man at length as well, before killing him, and discovered who the next currier after him was to be as well. Serine hopped he didn’t have to go that far. Hopefully tonight he would be able to kill the man coming here to this house and take the message from him and thus fulfill his contract. It should be soon, any time now.

Several minutes later his keen ears, lingering gifts from a far distant Elvin ancestor, picked up the sound of shod hooves approaching the Osgiliath gate. The came slowly and slightly out of rhythm. Serine knew that the condition of the mount would reflect the condition of the mounted after such a long ride. But then this man was Rohirric by descent, and if that meant he was more use to horses it was a small matter.

A faint Silhouette entered in at the main gate. He would not be challenged here in this dormant city, not at this time of night. Without hesitation the man road up the street towards the inn. Serine knew a candle gleamed through one of the windows in the empty Tavern he had seen the currier light it himself.


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

Luke was thoroughly miserable as he approached the tavern. The rain had not let up an ounce once over the last few days, and besides that his contact had not been where he was supposed to be and he had been forced to ride on to Osgiliath as he suspected he might but hoped he wouldn't. He was thoroughly looking forward to waiting out the rest of the rain in front of a warm fire. The only thing that said the Tavern wasn’t deserted was the flickering of a light in the window. Good, maybe there was food to be had as well.

Luke dismounted a few feet away from the entrance and let Ged have his head, he wasn’t going to wander to far in this weather and as soon as Luke delivered the message he would come back out and properly stable him.

“Stay here old man, be right back,” Old habits and the nature of his errand made Luke approach the Tavern slowly. Not that he actually believed there could be trouble, but it paid to be safe, especially when so much hinged on him. He put his hand on the door latch and felt rather than heard something behind him. He turned quickly only to find himself starring into the coldest blue eyes he had ever seen. His hand was already on one of his sword, and now he jerked it halfway out of its scabbard just in time. A dagger thrust glanced off the broad of his blade grazing his ribs. Luke kicked out with his right leg but his assailant danced back.

“Not bad,” Said an equally cold voice. The face of the man was shrouded so that all Luke could see were the eyes, “You have proved yourself more competent than your friend within.”

Luke felt a spider of cold fear climb his spine, “they had told him it would be a simple job, just drop the message off. The operation was strictly a secret, nobody even knew the message existed besides Luke the curriers along the route and of course his employer, “Who are you? What do you want?… besides the obvious.”

“Firstly, no names, not a big fan of compromising myself, even if you will be dead before too long, secondly I’ll find what I want by myself,” Serine drew his other long bladed dagger and walked forward.

There was something about this man that exuded danger, Luke thought. He had a job to do however. He drew his other sword and took a step forward as well. He was at least gratified to see that this had given the assassin a moment’s pause, but all too soon the man simply adjusted his stance and came in again.
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Postby Celebria » Mon Jul 03, 2006 8:12 pm

Celebria had pushed both Nahar and herself on the return trip. Despite this, she had made good time crossing the open fields of the Pelennor, and the two now approached the ruins of Osgiliath.

Osgiliath had once been a bright and beautiful city – a jewel in the Garden of Gondor. After countless attacks and years of neglect, however, it was little used save as a fort from which Gondor’s warriors sought to hold back the growing threat of Mordor. A recent assault had further decimated the city, leaving new rubble on top of old and wrenching its eastern half from Gondor’s control.

Celebria paused on Osgiliath’s damaged outskirts. The hood of her grey cloak concealed her thick hair and draped her features in shadow. Besides the rain this night, she did not need the unwanted questions a woman was likely to garner from the predominantly male population. Families no longer dwelt here and the whole city seemed poised on the edge, as though waiting for yet another attack.

Speaking to Nahar, Celebria passed a supply wain and surveyed the scarred buildings before her. Though she had never been to the outpost, Celebria knew the names of several men with whom her father had worked. She hoped one of them could tell her who Andrais had come to see the last time he was there.

Thunder rumbled in the distance as Celebria navigated the dark streets, which this far from the riverfront were relatively quiet. They were somewhat confusing as many of them were strewn with rubble. She turned down yet another narrow byway, this one lined with taverns and blocked at one end by the remains of some ancient tower. Celebria dismounted Nahar, thinking to inquire at the nicer-looking establishment at the end of the street.

The sounds of a struggle came to her ears. She glanced idly in the direction of what she supposed was a drunken brawl between two men who couldn’t quite hold their ale. However, as steel rang on steel, it became clear that the men were not drunk. Nor was this a mere brawl. Both men wielded double blades; one held swords and the other long daggers. They were obviously skilled, circling each other and desperately countering the other’s blows. The one with the swords parried yet another vicious stab and turned so Celebria could see his face. She was shocked to realize that she knew him from somewhere. As the memory of a tall man who took the time to speak with her flashed through her mind, the dagger found its mark. He grunted as the skin of his left forearm was slashed and dropped his sword. Pale eyes glittered in the dark as his enemy moved in to take advantage of the momentary lapse.

Celebria pulled a dagger of her own and threw it. The sharp Dwarven blade sliced through clothing, cutting flesh and evening the odds somewhat. The man with the kind smile did not waste the distraction and brought his other sword down in a powerful arc that wrenched one of the daggers from his enemy’s hand. The cold-eyed attacker lunged at him with the other, causing him to leap back. Then turning furiously, he lashed out at the unexpected newcomer. Celebria’s drawn sword parried the movement. She swung her blade with enough speed to drive him backward and kicked the dropped dagger out of his reach. By this time, her surprised ally had reclaimed his own lost weapon and the two advanced as a unit.

The assassin with eyes cold as ice hesitated, assessing the infuriating turn events had taken. He whirled and dove for his other dagger. Catching it up, he ran to the ruins blocking the street and with surprising agility, swung himself up. He leaped across the gap between the rubble and the roof of a burned-out building and disappeared into the night.

Celebria turned her gaze from the rooftops to the tall man beside her. Blood stained his left sleeve. She reached up, sheathing her blade behind her and then picked up her knife. “Come out of the rain,” she said motioning toward the tavern. “You are hurt.”
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Wed Jul 05, 2006 4:56 pm

Serine never played with his prey, so the fact that Luke had survived as long as he had was indeed a credit to his abilities. Not that Serine was concerned in the least, the other man would tire soon and make a mistake and that was all Serine needed, one mistake one slip and it would be all over

Luke for his part was hard pressed to keep the probing daggers at bay. He had taught sword play for years but the speed and agility adherent with swords could not match the speed and dexterity of the smaller blades especially when the assassin seemed to be just as much a master of his weapons as he was of his. The cobblestone was wet and slippery beneath their feet making their quick movements treacherous as much as essential to their lives.

Still Luke managed to hold the assassin off, dodging as often as parrying blows. He could tell this assassin was no mediocre guild assassin either. The level of skill and the way the shadows lent themselves to his every movement spoke of almost arcane abilities. The assassin made a particularly deft stroke, turning aside one of Luke’s blades and sliding his dagger forward. Luke spun sideways just avoiding the fatal blow.

As he turned a person standing further down the road caught his attention. A gleam under the traveler’s hood jogged something in Luke’s memory but he had no time to think on it. Even so his split second pause was enough to present an opening. Pain lanced through his left arm and he reflexively released his sword, cursing himself even in the act. He lashed out with his other sword, more a desperate warding action than a planned maneuver, but it succeeded in warding the assassin off for a couple crucial seconds.

Serine didn’t bother to smile in triumph, he had known the man would make a mistake eventually, and he had. He had paused upon seeing the new arrival. Serine could tell from this distance that it was a woman and almost dismissed her presence. But then, women could pull some nasty surprises on you when you weren’t expecting it; he had learned that the hard way. The best tactic was to end this quickly and slip away.

His opponent was now in pain and with only one of his weapons, this would be over in a moment. He stepped forward and blocked the expected across chest slash and made to slit the man open with his other blade. Quite suddenly he reeled back as he felt a dagger blade slash through his side. Nothing serious but a distraction he couldn’t afford. A rather inelegant crushing blow from the currier sent one of his daggers spinning across the cobblestones. Serine hazarded a glance over his shoulder and saw the woman coming on fast with her own sword drawn. He fainted at the currier who made to block then Serine spun and slashed at the woman.

Unfortunately she blocked and showing presence of mind, that proved yet another disappointment to Serine kicked his fallen dagger away from him. It was time to leave. Things had quite suddenly turned decisively against him. He needed to bandage himself up and re-plan his attack. The currier now had both his sword and was looking more sturdy and sure than before. Confidence was dangerous in the wrong hands.

He lunged towards his fallen dagger listening to the wind whistling as three blades made attempts on his life. He tucked and rolled over the fallen blade, catching it up and sheathing it in one action. A pile of rubble provided and easy exit and he took it. Two minutes later he dropped down into the saddle of his horse, which he had left six streets away, and made his way quickly from the city.

Again he was unconcerned; he knew whom the next contact was where the currier would inevitably have to travel in order to reach him. Some dark night in the woods surrounded by trees and dense brush would be infinitely easier than the streets of a city anyway.

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

Luke let the air leave his lungs in a rush. He was getting too old for this. He didn’t even know how he had let himself get roped into this. He offered no allegiance to Gondor or any other country for that matter. The only people he could be thought to be on relatively good terms with were the folk of Elrond and Galadrial. So why was he here playing messenger for the Gondorian generals. Probably because he was a sucker for a good cause.

“Come out of the rain,” a soft voice broke through his reminiscing, “You are hurt.”

“Yes, yes I am,” Luke said absently watching the blood drip of his finger tips, “Thank you.” He followed Celebria into the inn. She stopped suddenly in her tracks and let out a gasp when she saw the body lying in the middle of the common room floor.

“What happened here,” She asked, eyes wide from the shock, “Who was that man?”

“An assassin I suppose,” Luke smiled thinly, “This guy didn’t have a chance, If only I got here sooner.”

“Then you probably would have died sooner,” Celebria could help noticing the strange look in Luke’s eye, “Are you alright, come over by the fire and I will tend your wounds.”

“Thank you,” Luke shook his head, trying in vain to clear the fog that had settled, “I must apologize, I’m not at my best today.” That was an understatement. He felt as though a wall had fallen on him. His arm and side throbbed and the realization that not only had his contact been assassinated, he had just dodged an assassination attempt on his own life, the assassin was still out there, and he know had a long journey back towards the Misty mountains and Lothlorien. He was tempted to ride right back to Minas Tirith and tell the Generals to find somebody else. He ran a hand through his soaked hair and walked to the fireplace.

His leather gauntlet was ruined and came away easily as it had been sliced almost completely open. He would have to sew that up when he had a spare moment. The wound beneath was ugly and jagged; truly it looked worse then it was, but there was still a lot of blood. He wiped the wound more or less clean with his sopping wet cloak and let Celebria look at it, “I didn’t expect to see you here, to what do I oh the pleasure of being saved by you?”
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Postby blackthorn » Thu Jul 06, 2006 4:34 am

Below the dwarf made tunnels of Moria were the bravest of harts have been known to falter. Sat a chamber cloaked in utter darkness, forgotten by the eyes of men and the sands of time for four thousand year. With in this chamber deep in the abyss were even the nameless things feared to walk rested a sarcophagus carved out of the living rock. Placed with loving care by unknown and lost forgotten master craftsmen, It was gilded in jade and gold and adorned by flowers that have never wilted over the thousands of years.

Above the chamber a small speck of light floated down just above the gilded grave. It was the first light that had assaulted the darkness in eons. It hovered of a moment then descended. An Elvin voice could be heard from the blue light, “Wake to the light. Your journey is not finished. You are needed by the harts of men once again. The time is at hand for you to walk the earth one last time with all the restricting of man. Awake, leader of men for your arm of strength and courage is in needed once more to walk in the body of flesh and bone. Arise and come forth you time has not yet ended the journey has only just begun.

The chamber began to shack, the every rock of the dark under rumbled from the hart of the world. Screams of the nameless things who stalked about the chambers entrance wailed in protest, scratching at the hard rock as they drifted away into the darkness. The lid of the sarcophagus cracked asunder, opening a gap in the middle was the flowers fell onto a pair of sleeping hands.

With in the grave could be seen if there were eyes to see in the pail light a man with dark hair flowing over his shoulders and draped across his armored chest. With in his hands rested a long sword held half way down the blade now covered partly by the fallen flowers.

The light drifted down and fell upon his chest. At its delicate touch he heaved in a gasping breath and his deep blue eyes flew open. He sucked in great lung fills of stale musty air. His back arched and his arms flew up. His hands clutched the sides of the stone box were he heaved himself into a half sitting position.

“What magic is this,” He asked to the darkness with a raspy voice.

“Life has been granted to you one last time Kon, use it wisely.” Sounded the fair Elvin voice out of the darkness.

“Were have I been and what trickery of evil is this’ he asked once again.

“You will have no memory of your rest. Go now and walk the world of men once again. The love and courage that you have given your fellow man in life has granted you this chance.” The voice had started to fade.

“What of my wife, has she come too me?”

“All that you have known is no more, time has past since you walk with men and all goodly races, now is the time of your rebirth you must seek out a new future of your own but remember. She who was your wife will be with you always. Have faith and may your arm be steady old king.” The voice vanished and left Kon sitting in the dark.

Kon reached down and picked up the flowers that had fallen on him when the stones cracked open. He noticed they glowed with enough light to see in the great dark. A tear settled it’s self in the corner of his eye. He noticed that the flowers were the same as he had picked for his beloved the morning of his final battle. He quietly sobbed to himself for her in the ill lit darkness.

After a time he gathered himself up and tied the glowing flowers to a leather tong around his neck. He retrieved his sword from the stone box and placed it comfortably at his back with the hilt above his shoulder counseled beneath his red cloak. Now he had to find his barrens and clime out of the under ground tome towards the light.

He didn’t know how he arrived at this dark place all he could remember was the befalling of a great battle field. His mind caked with vivid memories of the battle and his wife waving good bye as he rode at the head of a great column of men mounted in there fine splendor towards a battle field and a face of a man pointing his long fingers towards him before every thing had gone dark.

He had to grab the stone wall of his own tome. His head pained and he almost fell to his knees. He grabbed the rock with one hand to steady himself and with the other he covers his face. After the pain finely subsided he regained his composure and tried to find an exit.
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Postby Celebria » Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:02 am

Celebria smiled faintly at her companion's words though she did not answer him immediately. Instead, she turned her attention to the gash in his arm. Rolling up his wet sleeve, her practiced eye surveyed the cut. Celebria had seen many wounds and this one could have been much worse. “It is not terribly deep,” she said. “I shall return in a moment.”

Celebria went out to Nahar and brought in her bag. She found a basin of water and dipping a clean cloth in it, thoroughly cleansed the wound. After satisfying herself that nothing remained which would cause the wound to fester later, she then opened a small jar of salve and carefully applied it. “You know,” she remarked conversationally as she worked. “You never did tell me your name.” She glanced up at him briefly with a smile. “I assume you have one, or do you go by one of those flattering monikers people seem so fond of giving to rangers these days?”

The tall man smiled in spite of himself. “My name is Luke,” he said.

Celebria wrapped a clean bandage around his forearm and tied it. “Well, Luke, I am very pleased to meet you – again.” Celebria stepped back and suddenly noticed a dark spot on Luke’s side. “Your side is cut as well.”

Luke shrugged. “A scratch only.”

Celebria gave him a look. “Come. Remove your shirt. I shall not be content to tend only half your wounds.”

With an inward groan, Luke removed his outer cloak and shirt. Celebria repeated the process on the cut in his side which, though angry-looking, was also not very deep. She finished her ministrations and would have asked Luke several questions when she noticed how miserable he seemed. He looked cold and weary. Celebria went into the next room and pulled a blanket from the bed. Carrying it back to the common room, she handed it to Luke. “At least it is dry.”

Luke wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and Celebria placed his wet clothing on chairs by the fire. She coaxed it into greater flame and glanced in the iron pot over it. Whatever it had been, stew most likely, was burned and ruined now.

She went to the cupboards behind the long bar and searched through them. “You must be famished,” she said. Finding a fresh loaf of bread and some dried fruit, Celebria brought them to a table along with a mug of ale. Luke sat down and glanced at Celebria. “You never answered my question,” he said.

Celebria remembered her own questions. Her green eyes drifted to the poor man on the floor. She walked over to the body and knelt on one knee. Her face tightened and she looked over at Luke. “This man was not only killed. He was tormented as well.”

Luke’s voice was quiet. “Yes, he was.”

Celebria closed the man’s lids and found another blanket to cover the body with. She returned to the table and sat opposite her companion. “You already know that I am searching for my parents,” she began. “My father has served the Steward nearly all his life in various positions, most of them of a military and political nature. Nearly a year ago, he returned from a meeting with Lord Denethor that greatly upset him. He and my mother left within a week for the North. I know only that he considered it very important to speak with one of the Dunedain.”

Celebria paused for a moment, her brow furrowed. She still did not understand why her father had been so close about the matter. “I thought at first the message must have been given to him by the Steward, but now I am not so certain. I am in Osgiliath to speak with Arvegil, an old military friend of my father’s who is now a commander here, to learn if he knew the person my father had spoken with about his plans. After that, whatever the outcome, I will leave for the North.”

Celebria took a small bite of bread and chewed thoughtfully. She found it odd that she had crossed paths with this man a second time. Though Celebria was no mystic, she knew that there were powers far beyond her and her heart told her this was somehow no chance encounter. “Now you know who I am,” she said finally. “Who are you, Master Luke, and why is an assassin capable of that,” she said, nodding her head toward the body, “now seeking your life?”
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Postby blackthorn » Thu Jul 06, 2006 5:34 pm

Kon walked around the tome chamber feeling along the cold stone wall with his hand. He could find nothing that would indicate an entrance or exit. Every thing seamed to be sealed solid. As he approached another rounded corner the flowers on his breast flared with sudden excitement. He reached down and held up the flowers and then looked at the wall. A questioning look played across his face. He took a few steps back and the light seamed to dim. Then he stepped forward again and the glowing flowers flared once again.

Ok, he said to him self, show me the way.

He started to claw and scratch at the stone. At first it gave no sign of moving, the stone seamed as solid as the rest of the dark chamber. He then pulled out a knife from his belt and started to work at a small stone imbedded in the wall that he thought might have a chance of moving. He jammed the finely crafted tip into a small crack beneath the stone and started to work the blade further in. Then he pried down and was rewarded with the stone moving slightly. He repeated the same motion again and the stone popped free fall at his feet. He pushed his hand into the hole just smaller then his hand. He grabbed onto the stone with a tight grip and bit his teeth into his bottom lip. At fist the stone wouldn’t budge but then he pulled his shoulder harder and the wall started to fall apart. Large chunks of stone littered the floor after an hour. After he was reasonably certain that the hole was large enough to push him self through he peered out beyond the hole for any sigh of danger. Seeing none didn’t reassure his confidence but he had no other choice but to venture into the darkness beyond.

Kon forced one leg through the hole and then tried to jam his body through. His foot felt solid ground beneath the soft leather souls. With a grunt he was able to break free of the tome only becoming stuck briefly but still able to pull him self free.

He gathers his breath out side of the tome surrounded in darkness. He lungs heaved heavily but he found the air no better then inside the tome. He felt uncomfortable in the dark and decided it wouldn’t be wise to rest, hope fully he would find some place ahead or even an opening to the world above.

He turned into one direction and again the flowers dimmed. He then turned into anther direction and the flowers glowed brighter. He didn’t have any idea were he was or witch direction to proceed so he thought that he might as well follow were the light was tacking him, any direction was good enough to him at this point.

He felt eyes watching him from the dark but nothing ventured into the light but he still felt there ever watching presence. He made his way after an hour travel too a set of stairs rising far above him into the darkness. They were chipped and some were broken from falling rocks. The stairs looked traitorous and winding and some were missing altogether covered in age old slime blackened by time. He had nowhere else to go and up was the best bet so he placed his foot on the fist step to begin his clime.
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Thu Jul 06, 2006 9:19 pm

Luke flexed his forearm testing if he had lost too much mobility. It still hurt but then pain was nothing knew and the salve that had been placed on it turned the pain dull and very much bearable. Luke pulled his hunting knife from the back of his belt and proceeded to cut himself a thick slice of bread while he considered Celebria’s questions. The first one was easy enough, but the second would take some thought.

“Well…,” Luke took a bite of bread and chewed thoughtfully, “I’m not actually a ranger, though I suppose that term is relative anyway.” He saw Celebria’s brow wrinkle in confusion. “That is to say that I am a ranger in more the general sense not the literal bloodline sense, it’s not important.”

“Ok, well that is what I meant,” Celebria smiled faintly, “I know that there are not so many of that blood. So then who are you exactly? Where do you come from?”

“Well initially I came from western Rohan, but that was more than half a life time ago,” Luke smiled at the faint memories, he didn’t miss them so much, but they had been good, “I lived near Mirkwood for several years, but that too was a long time ago, of late I have been doing just as you surmised, ranging.”

“You lived in Rohan?” This seemed to peek Celebria’s interest for some reason, “Who was your father?”

“Pequen,” He took another bight of bread then spoke again, “He still lives in Rohan, with my younger brother, who leads a Eored there. It was to be my birthright, but I left all that behind.”

“Why?” She couldn’t help asking. It seemed improbably that someone would give up such a glorious position without good cause.

“Ah well, that’s a very long story,” Luke’s eyes took on the glazed look of somebody who was starring into the distant past, “Suffice to say there are other things far more important than position and wealth. Such are honor and love, you are young, but you will discover this to be very true some day.”

“I already have,” Celebria’s tone hardened, “It is love for my parents that brings me to this place is it not?”

“Yes, but I warrant you will find a greater love than even that some day,” Luke winked and grinned, “It happens. Anyway, as for why I am here.” He turned suddenly grave, “That is a very good question and one I have been asking myself recently.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Celebria did not want to seem to pry although she could not help being curious after such an incident.

“I’m carrying a message,” Luke stated after a long pause, “I assume of utmost importance, though I have not read it. I was to deliver it to a man before this, but I found him missing, I wonder now if perhaps he met a similar fate as this one. Failed here, I must continue on to Lothlorien and perhaps even to Rivendel, to find the next currier. I can only assume there are those who do not want this message delivered.”

“It must be very important to attract the attention of an assassin,” Celebria agreed, “He must have been expensive judging from the degree of his skill.”

“Aye, I agree,” the thought did little to comfort Luke, “It was supposed to be a complete secret too, so I am somewhat confused on that issue as well. But I will delve into those thoughts later. It is late, why don’t you get some sleep?”

“You look far more tired then I do,” Celebria commented, knowing the loss of blood would contribute considerably to any exhaustion Luke might feel. “Why don’t you sleep and I’ll watch?”

“Tell you what,” Luke rose and walked closer to the fire, “I’ll split it with you, wake me halfway to dawn, and I’ll watch, how about that?”

“Sounds fair,” Celebria smiled brightly and turned her chair a bit more towards the door.

“Good, well then, I’ll see you in the morning,” Luke lay down on the floor closer to the fire. He relished the heart soaking into his body, his pants were drying slowly on his body, but he did not remove them for decency sake. He took one of his swords and unsheathed it, laying it close to hand but not close enough where he might inadvertently cut himself in slumber. With that he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to take him.
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Postby Celebria » Fri Jul 07, 2006 11:57 am

Celebria waited until Luke’s breathing was even and deep. Lifting her bag, she slipped quietly out the door, leaving it ajar so as not to disturb him. Celebria tied her bag down and ran a slender hand along Nahar’s velvet nose. The rain had finally stopped, leaving only a chill wind in its wake. She leaned against the side of the building and listened. The streets here were deserted.

Celebria thought about her conversation with Luke. She did not know why she trusted him. Despite his willingness to answer her questions, she knew him not at all. She supposed it was due in part to the fact that, though he had not agreed to help her, he had been kinder than most of the others about it. She remembered his gentle jest. Celebria supposed such was to be expected, though the concept was foreign to her. If there was one thing Celebria had learned, it was that she was different. Too different. A mortal blessed, or cursed depending upon how one viewed it, with Elvish looks was an oddity in the world Celebria had grown up in. She could see their thoughts in their eyes: You are an Elf. You do not truly belong here.

Again Celebria thought of Luke’s words. He had mentioned traveling to Lothlorien and Rivendell. Did he actually have dealings with the Eldar? Celebria had mistaken him for a ranger of the North, apparently for good reason. Though her mother was a Noldorin Elf from Rivendell, Andrais and Ninui had never returned there after Celebria’s birth. Celebria had never even seen any Elves other than her own mother nor visited any Elvish lands. She had always wondered if she did, would she see the same look in their bright eyes that she saw in the others’: You are not an Elf. You do not truly belong here. Her parents were all she had in this world. The only ones, save a few close friends, who did not treat her as though she was a mistake.

Celebria glanced into the inn when her watch was over. Luke was still asleep. She knew he had been utterly exhausted. It seemed cruel to wake him and she could not quite bring herself to do it. After all, she was not wounded, nor was she the one with a blood-thirsty killer after her.

When the barest hint of a muted dawn broke the darkness, Celebria walked Nahar down the street and mounted. She set a quick pace, heading through the ruined city down to the riverfront. Two inquiries and three rubble jumps later, she came to the barracks where Arvegil, an old friend of her father’s, was staying.

“Celebria?” The general asked in surprise when she was announced. “What on earth are you doing here? Come in, come in!” He turned to the two young soldiers in his office. “Give us a moment, will you?” He smiled at Celebria when they had closed the door. “How long has it been then? The last time I saw you, you were what? Fourteen?”

Celebria lowered the hood of her cloak. “Sixteen,” she corrected.

“Ah, well, you looked fourteen.” He surveyed her with a smile. “I suppose no one would be mistaking you for anything other than a woman now.”

“Oh, you might be surprised.” Celebria was thinking of Luke. “General, I am sorry to interrupt like this, but I need to ask you about my father. About why he left.”

Arvegil’s expression turned serious. “I wondered if you would eventually come asking. Although,” he said with slight rebuke, “you are supposed to be in Rohan. Andrais assured me that you would be staying with friends in Edoras for the duration of his absence.”

“I have been in Edoras. I returned to Minas Tirith only after months went by and still they had not returned as expected nor sent word regarding any delay. He said he needed to seek the Dunedain. He seemed upset and hurried. Why? What message did he need to give them? The Dunedain are spread across the North in small groups now. Where would he have gone first?”

Arvegil crossed his arms and studied Celebria. He was a good commander and a perceptive man. Though he had not seen her in some time, he had known Celebria well as a child while Andrais was posted in Ithilien. “Before I answer your questions, I would very much like to hear, Celebria, that I should not be worried about why you are asking them.”

Celebria met his gaze for a moment then looked away.

“No,” Arvegil shook his head. “Celebria, no. You cannot possibly be considering—“

“I have no choice,” she said quickly. “No one knows anything, and I did try to find a guide—“

“A guide? From where? You haven’t been asking complete strangers, have you?” Again, Celebria’s silence spoke volumes. “Celebria, the motives of any man agreeing to take you north would be extremely suspect! Especially a young one!”

“I have not been asking the young ones. I wanted someone with experience. I have tried to be careful.” Celebria walked toward the window. “You need not worry. If there is another way to say ‘No, it is too dangerous’ I have not heard it.” She turned back to the tall general. “Please, I have no one else to ask. What do you know of this message?”

Arvegil sighed. “Nothing. Andrais did not tell me what it was.”

Celebria stared at him in disbelief. “You are his closest friend!” she said incredulously.

“That’s exactly what I said.” Arvegil gave a wry smile. “It made no difference. He insisted the knowledge was dangerous and that I would not believe him anyway.”

Celebria felt mounting frustration. “My father came to Osgiliath three days before he left. Why? Was it only to say that he would be absent for a time?”

Arvegil ran a hand through his dark hair flecked with grey. “No. He came to ensure that if anything happened to him, the knowledge he possessed would still reach the North. He passed his message on to a man we both had served with out of Henneth Annun. His name is Cirion.”

“Excellent! Where may I find him?”

“Celebria, he left three months ago. I am sorry.”

Celebria turned her head. Tears pressed against her lashes and she swallowed with difficulty. Blinking away her disappointment, she composed herself and forced a smile for Arvegil. “Thank you, General. I cannot say how grateful I am for your candor.”

“Give me a month or two. Perhaps then I could spare some of my men for the journey. Your father would not want you to do this.”

“No, but he would understand why I did. I have wasted too much time already.”

Arvegil put his hands on Celebria’s shoulders. “Your father told me of your skill with a sword and Andrais is not given to exaggeration, but you are only one person. What will you do when you are surrounded by Orcs and there is no one to aid you?”

“I will fight them and trust the rest to the Valar.”

Arvegil threw up his hands. “You are awfully stubborn for one so young!”

Celebria tried her best to look apologetic. Her father’s friend rolled his eyes. “I don’t know why I am surprised,” he muttered. “ ‘It’s too dangerous’ never meant anything to Andrais either.”

Celebria smiled. “No, and I am a quick learner.”

Celebria left the office and reached for Nahar’s reins. She hesitated a moment and thought of the general’s words. “You are only one person.” For the first time, Celebria knew a seed of doubt. The enormity of the task before her took her breath away.

“Look at her ears…” Celebria heard one of the soldiers whisper to another. She instinctively lifted a hand to her cloak and then stopped. Gritting her teeth, Celebria swiftly mounted and swung Nahar around. Taking off at a gallop, the two leaped over a tumbled retaining wall and made for the outskirts of the ruined port.

As the distance to the gate lessened, Celebria thought once more of Luke. She was worried about him. An attack too soon could mean his death. At the very least, he would likely split open his wounds and need to restart the healing process all over again. Celebria almost went back to check on him, but then shook her head. Luke had already made it clear how he felt about her plan the first time she had asked him. Celebria knew he had his own concerns without taking on her’s as well.

The gates of Osgiliath loomed ahead in the early morning light. Celebria’s green eyes glittered with determination. She did not know how she would do it, but she knew one thing. Even if she were required to face down all the forces of Mordor alone, she was going to find her family.
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Fri Jul 07, 2006 11:59 pm

Luke awoke with a start. Instantly he knew something was wrong. Well not necessarily wrong, but not entirely right. It was bright outside which meant that Celebria, as he thought she might, had let him sleep throughout the night. He appreciated the gesture though it meant she would suffer later.

The tavern was empty as Luke rose and replaced his shirt and leather vest. Perhaps she was outside already Luke surmised. Minutes later as he immerged he found the street deserted and Celebria’s horse missing. Luke really didn’t know how he felt about being abandoned, but then even he had a tough time applying such a term to this situation. It wasn’t as though he really needed watching. He couldn’t help laughing out lowed. Ah but she was a sweet girl. If he wasn’t so tied up in his own business he thought he might even want to go accompany her. Oh well, there was nothing to be done know. He very much doubted she was coming back. If that had been her plan she would have left much earlier and been back by now, or waited longer and awakened him.

He considered going to see the officer she had mentioned and inquiring after her before going his own way. Arvegil was the man’s name. He was about to set off when someone coughed behind him.

“What happened here?” Said a light jovial voice, “Looks to be there a bit of a scuffle or two, what?”

“What the…” Luke spun around, his swords already half drawn until he saw who had spoken, “Who in Eru’s name are you?”

“Pish tosh old lad,” Said the fellow. He was not quite as tall as Luke, and much more gangly. He wore all black and had a thin saber buckled at his belt. Luke thought that the man himself resembled his weapon. He stood with a loose sort of nonchalance, that bespoke casualness but it was easy for Luke to see that he was coiled tighter than a spring, ready to pounce at a moment, “I can’t be given’ that sort of thin away now can I? Against policy and all that rot. But I am keenly interested in who you are.” This was all said in the most cheery of tones, “Especially what one of the kings curriers is doing dead in the inn behind us.”

The tone was cheery but the eyes of the man were hard as granite if not quite as cold. Luke re-sheathed his swords to signal no harmful intention, “I found him dead, when I arrived at this inn last night, I believe he was assassinated,” Luke said in a bored tone of voice, trying not to give away anything.

“Ah, so you would be Luke Pequen then?” The man reached under his tunic and pulled out a small circle of metal hanging on a chain, on it was embossed the white tree and stars of Gondor.

“Yes,” Luke started and lifted his cloak to reveal the same symbols on a rounded plate somewhat larger than the other mans, “Who are you?”

“My name is Quim,” The man winked broadly and offered a hand, “In his majesties service. Well in the Stewards service for the time being. I am hear to make your life a lot easier.”

“How do you intend to do that?” Luke asked almost laughing; this man obviously did not know what he was up against. Luke doubted whether anything short of divine intervention would make this nightmare end.

“Like this,” Quim’s smile never faltered as he stepped to the middle of the street, though when he spoke again it carried a note of grim resolve and just a little anger. Quim glared around at the surrounding houses and piles of ruble and suddenly shouted, “Now hear this, Serine, I know your listening! You might as well give up now and crawl back under whatever rock you came from!”

There was complete silence; really too much silence. It was as if the whole of the city was listening. “The Duke Caldredge has been found guilty of charges of high treason and is even know lacking everything from the neck down. You aren’t getting paid any more for this, you might as well forget you were ever employed.”

Still there was absolute silence, “Seriously, you and I both know your only here for the pay, you already got half, there is no chance your getting the second half. I’m taking the message now, too! If you want to come get it from me and my comrades your are much, much more than welcome!” This last bit of dialogue carried unconcealed hostility and hatred.

There was no warning what-so-ever and Luke found himself wondering how it could have happened. Quim’s sword flew from its sheath into his hand as if it had a mind of its own and with one sharp movement he knocked a long, thin, dark object out of the sky with a lowed metallic crash.

“No worries,” Quim smiled brightly and turned back to Luke, “Just a parting gift. Just to let me know we’ll see each other again soon. Now why don’t you give me the message? Serine wont be bothering with this contract anymore, and I think its about time this changed hands. You have done well in the service of the empire, you have your… our Stewards thanks.” With that he pulled a sizeable pouch from his belt and offered it to Luke.

Luke could tell by the jutting domed rims and faint clinking that he was being offered a reward and most likely an incentive to keep his mouth shut concerning the whole issue. He resented it, quite a lot actually. For a man without a country or true allegiance, most of the time any cause one could take on himself, if even for a short time, was reward enough. But then he could think of no reason and no polite way to refuse.

“I appreciate it,” Luke said finally and accepted the offered bag and in its place offered the small folded sheet of paper wrapped in leather that he had been originally given, “Have a safe journey.”

“What will you do now,” Quim asked with genuine curiosity, slipping the leather pack into his tunic, “Gondor could use a few more good men.”

“Perhaps,” Luke smiled back, “But I don’t know if I am that good a man.”

“Ah, your too hard on yourself,” Quim clapped him on the shoulder and noted how the older man winced, “You survived an attempt by Serine, the most deadly assassin I’ve ever heard of, and you did it all for a country you didn’t owe anything to that needed you. I’d say you’re a good man.”

“One good deed,” Luke left the rest unsaid, Quim shrugged and turned to go.

Luke stood in the street a moment, looking at the ground thinking hard about his next move. The delivery of the message, however annoying, had supplied him at least with a direction. Now he suddenly found himself a ranger without a cause, well almost no cause. There as always that one cause, but that was passive. After a few moments he realized what he was looking at. A long black throwing knife lay near his feet. It was made of some dull black steel so it would not glint in the sun, and shaped so that it would not whine through the air. He reached down and picked it up; a fine piece of work really. It just went to prove that there were dangerous people in this world. People more dangerous than him, Luke smiled at that thought. He liked not being the most dangerous, it gave him some hope.

His thoughts turned suddenly to the honey haired girl he had sat with the night before. She couldn’t have been more then twenty and she was headed out into the wild to look for her family. Especially now in this time of when war was on the brink and evil things lurked the land, what she was doing was suicide and Luke knew it. He had been like her once. He had headed off on a bold mission his father had warned him against going on all by himself. He had wound up only a short time later with an arrow in his gut in the rain on a dark hillside. Only providence had saved him then. He looked at the blade again, and imagined far crueler things piercing and tearing Celebria.

“Well Ged,” Luke became aware of his horses presence behind him, “You up for another long journey my old friend? Maybe we’ll be able to kill some Orcs.”

Ged whickered at hearing his name. Luke knew that was all it was, but he had given into the mild insanity of talking to his horse a long time ago. Many lonely travelers took to talking to their only steady companions after some length of time. Luke had held out longer than most, but he too had given in.

Luke’s eyes hardened at his own mentioning of Orcs. If there was one foul creature he hated with greater passion than Orcs, he had never found it.

“Right then,” Luke clapped his hands together and headed back into the inn, “Its settled. Let me restock and we can get out of here.” Ged didn’t seem to hear and had taken to nibbling at the scant bits of grass that had pushed its way through the crumbling paving stones of the ancient city.

Luke came back out of the inn a couple minutes later. He carried the extra blanket Celebria had brought out and the previously almost flaccid saddlebags once again bulged with the promise of a few good meals to come.

“Now lets go see if we can’t catch up,” Luke road back towards the city gate, keeping a sharp eye out for Celebria. He arrived there without so much as a glimpse however. The ancient city had many new paths and routs mixed in with the normal roads and boulevards, so there wasn’t anything like only one approach to the gate, Luke was sure. “Stay here Ged.” He commanded. After slinging a coil o rope, from his saddle bag, around his neck, Luke curled his fingers around a couple protruding stones in the massive walls and hauled himself out of the saddle. Years of neglect and fighting had taken their toll on the wall of Osgiliath, and now it was child’s play to maneuver up the side of the rough pock marked walls of the city.

Luke’s arm was aching forearm was aching when he reached the top and he hoped that he had not torn the wound open afresh. He gazed back over the city from this vantage point, noting the small figures of soldiers scurrying around at the other end of the city. No riders were headed towards the gate, this one or the one on the far side. He turned and looked out over the plains. Nothing there either. If Celebria were heading north this would be where she would want to come through, unless she had left very early that morning.

Something told him to have greater faith than that however. He saw it in her eyes and detected it in her soft and carrying manner the night before. She had too much compassion and loyalty in her to have left him unguarded as he slept so early in the morning to have been out of sight already along her way. He was fairly confident that Celebria was either still in the soldiers camp or headed towards this very gate along some hidden route. If she did not arrive by midday he would simply go speak to the soldiers. The badge that Quim had either forgotten or thought not worth collecting would gain him all the answers he would need. Then it was a simply matter to track her. He could do that easily enough, blind folded. She had a sent about her that Luke had noticed the first time they had spoken; despite the odor of ale and unwashed men he had been easily detected it. It was something of flowers, most Elvin folk had something of that scent hovering about them, it seemed Celebria had inherited that as well.

It was still semi early in the morning and Luke did not have long to wait once he once again descended from the wall top. This time his travel was made easier by the rope, and he was able to recover it after few minutes of yanking and flipping it. He had just replaced the rope and adopted a suitable tired and somewhat bored expression when she came riding out from behind a low pile of rubble. Such was her approach the neither had detected the other until she was almost to the gate.

“Going somewhere?” Luke asked smiled impudently.

“Luke,” Celebria seemed genuinely happy to see, “I am glad to find you well. I was concerned for you. I am on my way to seek my family afar.” She paused a moment, studying him, “It was good to have met you, I admit I am loath to say fair-well, but such is the way of life, is it not?”

“Yes, such is the way of life, and I pity those that must say fair-well,” Luke grinned, “How lucky are we that we need not say them here an now, eh?”

“I fear that my travels take me from your path,” Celebria shook her head, again Luke thought he saw genuine regret, “But I know your errand is pressing, as is mine. I feel neither of us could deviate from our course for the mere pleasure of the company of another person.”

“Well then it is again fortunate that our paths lay atop one another,” Luke couldn’t help chuckling, “Though if you do not want my company, then I shall of course not hinder you further.”
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Postby Celebria » Sat Jul 08, 2006 6:59 am

“No!” Celebria said quickly. “It is not that at all.” She shook her head. “But, what of your message?”

Luke swung back into the saddle and pulled up beside Celebria and Nahar. “It’s been passed on. Though unexpected, it is nevertheless in the right hands, and I am free of its constraints. It was the primary reason I refused you in the first place.”

Celebria gazed out beyond the edge of Osgiliath, trying to take in what Luke was telling her.

“You never woke me up,” he said with feigned rebuke.

Celebria felt momentary guilt. “I thought the extra sleep would do you good.”

“What you thought,” Luke countered, “was that I couldn’t help you. But you were wrong.”

Celebria lifted her eyes, scarcely able to believe that she would not need to face this task on her own. “So, you will guide me to the North?”

“Yes, Celebria,” Luke said with a smile. “I will guide you.”
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Postby Celebria » Mon Jul 10, 2006 12:45 pm

Ten months previously…

Andrais son of Anbarth of Gondor and Emelia of Dol Amroth stood before the large ornate doors of the Hall of the Kings in Minas Tirith. He paused a moment to collect his thoughts. He was eager to have this meeting with the Steward behind him. Andrais did not expect it to go well yet felt it was his duty to do what he could.

The doors opened and Andrais walked down the long marble hall between the magnificent statues of the kings of Gondor. The sight of them never failed to stir his heart where faith yet lived that once again his nation would be ruled by one in the line of Elendil. He stopped before Lord Denethor and bowed respectfully. “My lord.”

“You said this was urgent, Captain. What could be more urgent than remaining at your post in Pelargir?” he asked impatiently.

“My lord, my men recently intercepted a very disturbing message from a Corsair currier. It was confirmation that orders for the murder of six men in the North had been delivered. These are good men who are leaders of their people, two of whom I know personally.”

“Did you not kill the currier, Andrais? What does this have to do with me?”

“My lord, these orders were newly delivered. I would ask that you dispatch riders to Eriador to warn these men immediately. There is a chance that the murders could be averted and the assassins dealt with.”

Denethor shook his head firmly. “Absolutely not. We cannot spare any soldiers at this time and new reports say the roads are nearly impassable. Orcs have taken the mountain passes and occupy many of the fords. Let those in the North defend themselves.”

Andrais’ jaw tightened. “These orders include their families.”

Denethor met Andrais’ gaze. “I said no. Gondor holds no allegiance to any gypsy band of rangers who fancy themselves the heirs of noble blood. And I grow weary of your misplaced loyalty to the false belief that there shall again be a king of Gondor. The stewards have ruled this land for generations and always will.”

“There are yet those of us who still believe the old prophesies,” Andrais dared to say. “Many of the people throughout this realm have not lost faith utterly. They are ready for the return of the king.”

Denethor stood quickly, his stern face a mask of anger. “I am very close to holding your stand on this matter as treason, Andrais. Do not let me hear again of your encouraging such a position among the people. Your responsibilities are limited to informing the generals of the port’s military status and ensuring that Rohan answers any call for aid that Gondor sends. Is that clear?”

A muscle in Andrais’ neck flexed and he controlled his temper with effort. “Exceedingly.”

“Good. Then if there is nothing further, you are dismissed.”

The tall captain turned on his heel and strode from the hall. As the heavy doors closed behind him, Andrais knew that what he was about to do was not only dangerous but could very well result in his family’s banishment. He did not trust Denethor and had the unsettling feeling that his announcement was not news to the Steward.

Andrais rode down to the third level and entered an establishment that appeared on the face of it to be nothing more than a busy tavern catering to the city’s thirsty laborers. Few indeed knew it to be the gathering place of an underground network whose primary function was laying the foundation for the future king of Gondor to return to his throne. Andrais glanced behind him and pushed open the wooden door. He knew what he must do, but first he needed a little more information.
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Postby blackthorn » Mon Jul 10, 2006 3:43 pm

Time was something that had to be jugged best as possible. There was no sun to go by in the great dark every thing seamed to go in a blur to Kon, minutes melted into hours and hours seamed like days. He had been climbing for what be believed to be a good portion of a day with no relief insight. He had found some small places to rest but he decided to move as much as possible, stopping only for brief moments. He still felt the eyes watching him but he couldn’t see past the glow of the flowers that he held in his hand before him. Although he couldn’t see far, he didn’t know if he would really want to know what lurked in the darkness surrounding him.

The hunger twisted in his stomach but the thirst was even more disheartening. He had found some type of mushroom growing on the walls but he didn’t know if he should risk any thing down this far including the water but soon be known he would have no choice if he didn’t find some way out. His only hope was that my haps he was not that deep but sill he kept waving off the notion and tried to set his mind on just pressing forward.

After another three hours of climbing the slippery stone steps he arrived at a place were the stone steps be gain to widen and the wall turned from cut tunnels to fine set stones. Kon studied the wall for a time deciding that they couldn’t have been made by any other race then the small dwarfs who worked and lived most of there long lived lives under ground.

After another two hours he arrived and in a large room. He finely understood where he was and how to get out. He couldn’t believe his eyes, once a place he had know well filled with life and celebrations was know more then a tome of it’s own now. The great halls of Moria were now; empty with scattered bones of dwarfs some still laying inside there various pieces of dwarven made amour. Broken Ocr spears and dwarf battle hammers, axes, short swords and shields littered the floors were each of them had made there last stand ageist an over whelming Orc force.

Kon couldn’t believe what had befallen the mighty race of dwarfs. He bent at the knees and shook his head in disbelief. He reached on to a now long gone dwarf’s belt to remove what looked like a water skin. He didn’t like the idea of steeling from the dead but if he didn’t find water soon he was going to join them. He felt the water skin, I appeared not have any holes but it also felt light. He popped off the wooden stopper, tilting it above his open mouth.

His dry and parched mouth was japing open, waiting for any thing that might escape the precious water skin. A mouth full of water dripped into his mouth wetting his tough. He fought the instinct to swallow the water allowing it to relive his dry mouth and throat. He knew if he had swallowed it to quickly he would be just as dry a moment later. After squeezing the last few drops from the skin he hung it around his neck incase he was able to him a steam later.

He was still hungry and thirsty but finding the small amount of water was at the very lest some thing to raise his spirits for the moment.

He continued to look around the hall for some time but didn’t find any thing of any use. The one other thing he did find was a fine dwarf long spear. The medal tip was gone but the thick ash handle was more then good enough for Kon to use as a quarter staff.

He swung the ash staff around a couple of time to find it balance. After, he was quite impressed with the strength of the wood and with some miner trimming it would make a fine staff to help him in his journey. He grabbed the staff in the middle and started his way out of the dwarf kingdom. He knew were he was now and hoped to be out of the mountain by hidden passage. With any lock it would still be light out so he could see the land ahead for water.

Before he left the great hall he stood at the middle of the room and said a silent prier to him self for all those who had fallen. After he was done he began to walk once again leaving the dead to there rest.
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:28 am

“So before we go dashing off into the wilds,” Luke urged Ged out of the main gates of Osgiliath and forward over the broken road that died only about thirty yards out, “We had best have a plan of action. What exactly did you learn from your father’s comrade?”

“My father had a message that he said must reach the Dunedàin in the north, and he came here and delivered it also to a man named Cirion to insure it was delivered,” Celebria related all the information she had gleaned from General Arvegil, “Cirion left three months ago, though who can tell where he went. It may well have been north, it may have been elsewhere.”

“The Dunedàin?” Luke wondered what message could be so important to indeed go in search of the Dunedàin. Such was not an easy task and posed many, many a danger, “In the North?”

“Yes,” Celebria halted Nahar along side Ged when Luke stopped him.

“Well…” Luke paused a moment, thinking carefully over the movement he was about to suggest. It would take much time, time he doubted they could afford going on a wild goose chase. Well if his hunch did prove false it would at least be a step in the perceived right direction, north. “I would suggest we make for Lorièn. None of the races of men care much for the Dunedàin any longer as they keep mainly to themselves only interacting occasionally with those of elf kind.”

“Lorièn,” Celebria mould that over for a moment, “Do you think it is a possibility my father went there?”

“I would say it could be a possibility, considering his marriage, he would be tolerated if not welcome,” Luke smiled apologetically, “If he did not got here, perhaps we can at least find out where some of the Dunedàin are, and then we can find and ask them for information. The elves have a knack for seeming to do nothing at all yet still they know more about what is going on in the world around them then just about anybody.”

“You make a good point,” Celebria grinned, hope was returning now that they had a solid plan that promised at least some results, “Lorièn it is then!”

“Excellent,” Luke wheeled Ged North from the gate. Further up the wall of Osgiliath curled around to the right where Luke new they would meet the river Anduin. With the all to frequent clashes these days between men and Orc any stretch of the river near the city would be treacherous. “If you will allow me guide you, then I will take you to Lorièn by safest and quickest route I know of, though I warn you, even this safe route will be treacherous.”

“I do not fear pain or danger,” Celebria’s tone was hard and immobile, “Lead on.”

“Very well,” Luke nudged Ged forward again, “We will make for the West Road, riding strait today we should be able to make it to the road by the Grey Wood. I would suggest an early camp their tonight, a good sleep, and an early start tomorrow. Then we shall continue traveling the West Road towards Firien Wood and eventually Edoras.”

“I have just come from that way,” Celebria interjected, “I did not know I would be returning so soon.”

“Perhaps,” Luke rubbed at his chine which showing the growth of stubble he continued to battle against despite the sneaking suspicion he was loosing, “It will depend on the weather, if all goes well I would like to leave the road for a short time and pass over the River Snowbourne, and cut strait up to rejoin the road as it crosses the Entwash at the Entwade Ford.”

“And from there,” Celebria was getting slightly overwhelmed by the list of places Luke seemed to spout out with no second thought. She was suddenly very glad she had a guide, and it seemed she had indeed the perfect man for the job, “I fear I have little knowledge of the land.”

“From there, if our fortune holds, I would follow the Entwash on the far side up to fangorn. Though I would not enter that woods unless completely without choice, it will mean skirting the Wold and the Downs, a harrowing task at best!” Luke shook his head; memories of the downs were a thing that haunted him to this day. He did not fear the Downs so much as he respected the awesome danger awaiting the unwary and those of the even the most coning minds, “We will try and get past the Downs in one day, it is best not to camp in the Downs.”

“I have heard of the Downs,” Luke saw Celebria shiver as well. If even half the stories were true she would not relish the prospect of traveling so close to them, “Is it true the dead walk the land there?”

“Yes, after a fashion,” Luke turned to look Celebria in the eye, “While they do not leave their burial mounds, they are certainly not idle. It may well be one of the more terrible legs of our journey. But enough of that. From there we will cross the Limlight and head due North for the Silverload and Lorièn.”

“It sounds as though it will take us months,” Celebria new found hope was threatening to be snuffed out all too soon and Luke could sense it. Despair this early in the journey could be fatal, “Though it is the best chance for finding my father! Let us be off then!” Never mind despair! Luke smiled in spite of himself, she was indeed undauntible.

“Yes,” Luke nudged Ged into a faster pace, “ We will set camp at the Grey Wood tonight.”

They road long that day; though not especially hard. Luke wanted to conserve the horses and their bodies for the long journey ahead. Today would do for a rest to drive exhaustion from their bones, before the long trek truly began.

They arrived at the West road a few hours before dusk. They crossed it and made for the trees visible in not far off. Two hours before dusk the Two companions made the trees and Luke called a halt.

“This is a good place for tonight,” He scanned the wooded area around them and pointed a little father back into its depths, “We will make camp further in. While the men of Gondor still control the roads as best they can, it would be best no to draw attention with a fire visible from the road should orc or more fowl beast be around.”

“That is wise,” Celebria led her horse father into the tree, followed closely by Luke, “I saw no sine of any enemy on the road from Edoras, but that is not to say it could not change very quickly. Better safe then sorry.”

Luke nodded and quickly began unbridling Ged and taking the saddlebags from his faithful mounts back. There was still much to do before the night. Wood had to be cut or gathered, the horses tended and fed, a fire made, food prepared. Tonight might be their last chance for a good hot meal and Luke believed every long journey should begin with one of those.
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Postby Sith~Happens1292 » Wed Jul 12, 2006 10:13 am

In the time if Men and Elves, Men have predominantly ruled, with the exception of a few Elven rulers. Men have always fought to keep the lands around them safe, resulting in a better part of Middle Earth on the safe side, while the Elves merely keep to themselves. Furthermore, the lands of Mordor are kept at bay. The rangers of the north and even some from the south have bizarrely bred with some of the elves. In that instance, there are half-elven creatures, neither yet both, elf and man. Now they walk Middle Earth, searching for forgotten lands or treasures, while others search for a more meaningful rationale: their loved ones.

~*~

A dark mare trotted carelessly in the forest. It took a right turn here, and a left turn there, when finally she came upon her master, sitting silently in the underbrush. She ate a bit of rabbit meat she had previously caught. Her horse, Melanctha, or Mel for short, stood waiting impatiently in front of her. She whinnied and neighed loudly for a moment or so, until Iyllellowayth, her master and companion tossed her the rest of the meat. She grazed on it hungrily, until she stopped suddenly. Iyllellowayth was gone. Mel looked around, but saw no sign of her friend; she continued to graze.

Meanwhile, out on the road, Iyllellowayth gazed at the hoof prints that seemed to have been galloping at a constant speed – fast. She wondered who would be wondering the roads these days, especially a pair. The road was dangerous, she knew. She had come across a couple of highly trained bandits, probably not highwaymen at all. They had tried to steal her horse when she was sleeping, but she never slept, at least not all the way. She slept with one eye open, figuratively, of course. But also in a sense that she always knew what was happening around her when she slept. Anyways, they had tried to steal her horse, and everything with it – weapons, food, money. However, she got everything back, and more. She had slain every one of them, though not so easily.

When she was finished with them, she packed up her horse and moved on, encountering no more “danger” as she traveled the road. She was surprised the pair had not seen her tracks, for they had ridden directly over them.

Iyllellowayth whistled deafeningly, and her horse came within a minute. She mounted, went back to the campsite, and packed everything up. Then she rode out to the road, and followed the tracks.

~*~

Not long after, the sun began to set, painting the sky stunning purples and oranges, with the occasional pink or red flash. And for once, Iyllellowayth paid attention to the beauty, taking in the immediate affect of dark. Shadows crept threateningly over the hills, filling in every nook and cranny of the path she now tread. However, that didn’t stop her. She could see almost perfectly in the dark. Ell followed the tracks, a little more slowly this time, until she came upon the tracks veering suddenly off into the forest. She smiled. Found you. She hopped off her horse noiselessly, grabbing her spear and a few daggers. “Stay here. I’ll return later.” She whispered to her horse. Then she strode into the woods.

For a while, she found nothing. Then she saw in the distance a flicker of light, and heard hushed voices. Stalking like a ghost in a graveyard, she discovered the camp. But what she found amused her. It was a man and a woman in camp, cooking some food. She watched intently, absorbed in the conversation being held: absolutely nothing. She snickered. These were boring old travelers, probably loaded with gold. She was going to go for the kill, when the girl spoke up.

“I suppose my father went north, but Arvegil never said anything about my mother. Do you think-“

Just as she continued, Iyllellowayth stepped on a twig. It snapped particularly loud, so she halted suddenly. She scolded herself mentally. How could you have possibly done that?! What were you thinking? She had hoped no one had heard it, but the abrupt movement in the camp suggested otherwise.
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Wed Jul 12, 2006 12:39 pm

“I’m curious, I’ve heard a lot about your father’s message and mission,” Luke tore the roasted meat from the small wing bone of a pheasant. He was very happy to be able to bring in food outside their supplies. Soon enough prey would become to scarce or it would become to dangerous to hunt and they would be relying exclusively on the food in their saddle bags, “But what about your mother? I assume we are searching for her too. Did she go with your father?”

They had set up camp that night in a small clearing, for the sake of a fire, further back in the dense woods. It wasn’t too far from the road, as Luke didn’t want to have to travel at length to get back on the road. He had gather wood and dispatched a hapless pheasant, and while he built a fire Celebria had prepared the meat. A while later they sat at ease eating the bird and talking of further plans.

“I suppose my father went north, but Arvegil never said anything about my mother. Do you think-” Celebria started to conjecturalize when suddenly there was the sound of a twig snapping in the woods.

Luke hadn’t expected trouble this close to Minas Tirith but that didn’t slow him down at all. There were a few clues to the fact that whoever had broken the twig outside the parameter of the clearing was in fact not friendly. First of all Luke had not detected their approach, usually a sign of stealthy movement. Stealth was only needed when approaching an unfriendly target and Luke had made no attempt to keep his conversation quiet. Secondly he and Celebria were hidden away in the woods. There was little cause for anybody to track them thus far with malevolent intent. Of course he could be wrong and it might be just a random curious traveler, but he hadn’t remained alive so long with such a mindset.

His bow and quiver lay next to him on the ground, ready for just such eventualities. In two heart beats he had an arrow notched and taught, aiming at the spot the sound had emanated from.

“Celebria,” Luke hissed, “Get down behind me!” Celebria moved to obey instantly while Luke scanned the underbrush. “You only get one warning!” Luke called out, “Show yourself or walk away, it makes no difference to me! If you’re a friend, your welcome to share our fire, if you’re an enemy you had best be moving along, it’s not worth it.” Luke heard the hiss of metal on metal as Celebria drew her dwarven dagger from its sheath. Luke held his bow ready to fire at the first sign of hostility, or if needs be sweep away projectiles that might come pelting out of the forest.

All in all it was not a comfortable situation. Luke felt very exposed in the clearing, the fire illuminating his every move for however happened to be staring out at him from the darkness. “Choose quickly!” Luke called out again, “I am becoming impatient!”
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Postby Celebria » Wed Jul 12, 2006 1:25 pm

Celebria crouched on one knee behind Luke, a blade in her hand. Her heart beat quickly and she strained her keen eyes into the darkness, trying to see anything at all beyond the light of the fire. She thought for a moment that she could see an outline of a slender person standing among the trees. A long object was in his hand. A spear. So, the stranger was armed.

Why would one approach a camp secretly with a weapon if the intent was not one of harm? Celebria remembered Arvegil saying that her father's knowledge was dangerous. Could they have been followed from Osgiliath, and if so, by whom?

She was very aware that anything thrown at them would hit Luke first. What had she gotten him into? Celebria held the knife firmly, her muscles tense, and waited for the intruder to make his choice.
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Postby Sith~Happens1292 » Wed Jul 12, 2006 1:27 pm

“Choose quickly!” the man called out again, “I am becoming impatient!”

Iyllellowayth smiled to herself. This was just what she thought. They chose not to fire, so they must be weak. She moved again, and stretched. “Fear not,” she called out, picking up a medium sized rock. She threw it a ways away from her, to throw them off. She watched as the man shifted his position to the direction of where the rock landed. “Fools,” she whispered.

“For I am merely a traveler like you,” she lied through her teeth. “I saw your fire and was only hoping for a little warmth and companionship.

She stopped talking and stepped through the bushes. When the man saw her enter from her original state, he shifted back to his spot, aiming directly at her. “How do I know you’re not an enemy, posing as a wanderer of the road?” He looked at her, unsure what to make of her garb. It was nothing like he had seen before: a little showy if you would ask him. A top showing all of her abdomen, and leggings hugging her lower half. To make it even more unusual, over the pants was a skirt, and she wore thigh-high boots. She was definitely not from around here. Then he noticed her eyes. They were black with a red brim. They looked merciless and –

“Can you lower your bow? It’s kind of annoying.” She started to make her way towards the fire, when he stopped her.

“Where are you from? Your voice says friendly, yet your eyes are –“

“A birth defect. I never understood them either. But, hey, you have to learn to live with things like that. In addition, my tattoos, if you are wondering, are from when I was a child. I am unsure of who gave them to me.” She had stopped smiling, a painful look fixed on her face.

She smiled inwardly at her acting skills. She had to give herself credit. She knew it worked when he lowered his bow and the girl cautiously put away the petty dagger.

“But enough about me, what of you? Who are you? Where are you from and where are you going?” She still held the spear in her hand. But before they could answer, she whistled loudly again. The man looked up.

"Your friends?" He picked up his bow and held an arrow in it.

She rolled her eyes. "My horse."

And lo and behold, Mel came trotting through the forest, neighing as her master pet her.

The man whispered something to his friend, and as Iyllellowayth turned her back to pet Mel more, she heard the slightest metal-on-metal slide. The dagger was out again.
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Wed Jul 12, 2006 2:45 pm

Strait off trusting this girl was impossible in Luke’s opinion. She appeared young and fiery, never a good combination when it came too careful decision-making. Luke’s years had tempered him against quick discussions when the outcome was completely unknown. By her baring and dress however Luke could easily deduce she could handle herself. She walked with some semblance of what Luke had always liked to describe to his students as a dancers grace, which implied she knew how to move and probably use that spear of hers. Then of course there was the garb. There was no way a woman dressed like that could avoid the unwanted attentions of men. If she had survived this long she would have to know how to defend herself.

Luke smiled a thin smile of feigned courtesy. “You’re more then welcome to enjoy our fire,” Luke cocked his head to one side lowering his bow again, “But I’m afraid you will do so unarmed.”

“I sense a lack of trust,” The stranger’s sarcastic tone was thick but Luke didn’t rise to it, “You are practically bristling with weapons, a poor girl like me would be quite helpless without a weapon.”

“I doubt it,” Luke smiled pleasantly, “But all the same those are the rules of this fire. My friend and I are, of course, exempt, because we are indeed the builders of this fire.”

“I could always just build my own fire,” The woman suggested smiling impudently.

“Aye, you could that,” Luke nodded matter of factually, “And I could put an arrow in your gut. Don’t think I am a fool or that because you are a woman and seem fond of showing yourself off that that will cause me any moments pause should you reveal yourself to be of less then good intent. Many of the most perilous fighters I have met in my long days have been women. I try not to underestimate anybody, try not to do the same, somebody could get hurt.”

“Oh my, is that a threat?” the woman actually seemed to perk up.

“No threats here,” Luke placed his bow on the ground, “I am merely protecting myself and my companion to the best of my abilities. If you cannot abide how I do that, you are welcome to leave, you are not so welcome to test my resolve, but that is an option.” Luke was conscious of the weight of his swords hanging at his belt. Now that she was out of the trees, those would be preferable for close quarters. He hoped it didn’t come to that though. He hated killing humans, and women too boot. Though he was willing to do what was necessary.
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Postby blackthorn » Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:42 pm

The small tunnel wasn’t built for humans. Kon had to bend low but it was wide enough to allow three dwarfs to stand arm to arm. Spiders had taken residents in the damp tunnel, spinning there fine silken webs in various patterns. He reached up his hand to brush them aside.

Kon finely reached the end of the tunnel; it was blocked by a door made of solid stone. He had remembered when he had visited the dwarf’s stronghold from a time long past; they had shown him there escape routes through the mountain of stone. If the door was forced open he was told the tunnel was constructed to collapse sealing it off from invaders. He had no reason to doubt the crafty little people but he also knew how to open the locking mechanism. He reached above the sealed stone and felt along the curved ceiling. Finding what he was looking for he slipped he hand in to a small opening. His fingers locked around a wooden handle and he pulled hard. The sound of moving gears and counter weights could be herd behind the stone walls. At the top of the passage the sealed door began to move with cracking resistance.

The light shot through the darkness like a spear cutting into the very soul of evil. The light was so bright; Kon had to place his hand in front of his face to block the blinding light from his eyes. As soon as his eyes became adjusted to the light he stepped out of the shadow. He found him self standing high in a mountain. At first he thought that it might be the season of snow but as he looked further out he make out green pastures and leaf filled forest surrounding the base of the snow caped mountain.

The first thing Kon did after looking around was fall to his knees. He scooped up snow and placed it into his mouth. The snow melted quickly in him warm mouth. Kon tried to make it as warm a possible before swallowing. He didn’t think melted snow could taste so good but after a few more hand fill’s he felt refreshed. He grabbed the water skin he had around his neck and tried as best he could to stuff snow down its narrow neck. He then placed it under his arm so it would melt from his body heat.

Kon returned to his feet and picked up the ash staff that he had dropped in his excitement from finding a source of water. He reached beneath his cloak and pulled out an ox horn with his other hand. He placed it to his lips and filled his lungs.

The call rang out across the lonely expanse with a spine chilling sound. It echoed off the snow covered caps and reached down into the valleys below. The sound had never been herd in four thousand years. It wasn’t a call of need but a call of warning to those who would defile the goodly races and his return to the world of men. It had a note of sorrow in the call that Kon felt was appropriate to his lost friends that he would never see again in this life. The eco died out over the plain.

He returned the horn to his side and grabbed the staff with a tight grip. He looked ahead for some kind of trail upon finding none he decided on his path and started the long journey down, wrapping his cloak around him to fight off the cold.
Last edited by blackthorn on Wed Jul 12, 2006 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Celebria » Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:53 pm

Celebria stood beside Luke and studied the woman standing opposite their fire. She had never seen anyone like her before. Her silvery hair with dark streaks was pulled back from a pretty, if hard, face and she was dressed very strangely. But her most striking features were a pair of dark almond-shaped eyes and the markings on her body. She had said they were given to her as a child. What people put such markings upon their children?

Celebria resheathed her dagger and reached down to stoke the fire. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

The woman watched her movements carefully, as though she expected Celebria to suddenly lunge at her. Celebria smiled slightly. “It is an honest question.”

“I ate,” she said shortly.

Celebria could sense the tension still in Luke. Normally, Celebria desired to give others the benefit of the doubt choosing to believe the best about them, but there was a feeling of danger surrounding this woman that was interfering with her ability to wholly succeed this time. Still, she did not think the girl would now attempt to harm them.

“You ask many questions,” Celebria said mildly. “We are from Rohan and Gondor. What about you? Where do you call home?”

Again the woman looked at Celebria suspiciously. “I call no place home. But I believe the answer to your question is the South.”

This person had attempted to enter their camp secretly with a weapon. She was the one who had approached them. In Celebria’s mind, this meant she ought to be the first to answer questions. “So, you come from the South, are armed, and on horseback. Are we to assume that you have cause then to be journeying in this wood?”
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Postby Sith~Happens1292 » Wed Jul 12, 2006 4:51 pm

“This wood, no. This land, yes. I saw your fire. No offense, but it’s a little easy to see.”

“We are far back. How could you have seen such a small campfire?” The girl asked.

“I have eyes. The things you use to see with. Obviously you cannot use them to their fullest.” The latter she added in a little more than a whisper, but loud enough to be heard.

“If you have a problem with the company you are in, you are not forced to stay.” The man said in irritation.

“No, no. ‘Tis quite comfy. Reminds me of home. At least, what it used to be. But back to your previous question.” She changed the subject hastily. Thinking of her home almost pained her. Almost. “I really only travel around. I may venture into cities to restock on food and whatnot. Rabbits and squirrels tend to loose their taste after a while, if you know what I mean.”

There was a moment of silence, when she got up and picked up her spear. The two stood up quickly. “I’m putting it away. For some reason, I trust you,” she said motioning towards the weapons.

“But you are not so lucky. Just not yet.” The girl said. “I try to give strangers the benefit of the doubt, if you know what I mean.”

Ell’s face hardened somewhat, but then she smiled. "You're catching on quicker than I thought." The girl smiled back.

"My name is Iyllellowayth. But if you can't pronounce it, just call me Nyx. Some friends of mine gave me the name."

Ell sat back down. "But really brings you down here? I heard earlier that your father went north. I can tell from your tracks that you were heading north. Any particular reason?”

“So you followed our tracks.” The man said incredulously.

Ell opened her mouth to speak, but she knew she’d been caught. “Yes, I followed your tracks, to an extent. You traveled on an open road, not even caring to cover your tracks. Apparently you thought it was safe out here? Well it’s not, just so you know.” She threw them a cautious glance.

She looked as though she was trying to figure out something.

“What is it?”

“You never answered my question.”

”What question?” The man said, clearly trying to stay away from the matter.

“What really brings you up north.?”
Last edited by Sith~Happens1292 on Wed Jul 12, 2006 6:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Celebria » Wed Jul 12, 2006 6:21 pm

Celebria glanced at Luke as he also sat down. She did not know what to make of this young woman's questions. She thought it very odd that an unusual woman happens to see their trail on the road and follows them merely for lack of something better to do, apparently. And somehow idle curiosity did not quite seem to fit. Why was she asking about their journey?

Again, she thought of the dangerous mission that had sent her family north and how little she really knew of it. The concern she felt for her parents was very real to Celebria and difficult to speak of, especially to an antagonistic stranger.

Finally, she ventured an answer. "My name is Celebria. My parents traveled to the North some time ago," Celebria inclined her head and smiled. "So, I am traveling north." Though vague, she hoped it would be enough to satisfy their unexpected visitor.
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Postby blackthorn » Thu Jul 13, 2006 4:26 pm

The cabin was tucked into a small cluster of trees. White smoke puffed slowly out of the chimney, wile small birds flew from tree to tree singing there songs to one another. A small brown squirrel scurried across the wooden roof of the small cabin then down the side with perfected balance. It had a plank door sitting in a tall frame surrounded by cut fire wood and a crude but sturdy looking bench.

Kon had spotted the rolling smoke from high up on the mountain and made his way towards the smoke as fast as he could. He had left the snow far behind but there were small patches still clinging on defiantly, refusing to yield the plaints beneath. His hunger was making him weak with the long dangerous hike but he had renewed hope when he had spotted the smoke and trees far below. If he couldn’t find something to eat at the cabin he knew he could at lest try his luck at hunting in the lower regions. He had only the energy to place one foot in front of the other, stumbling his way towards the Cabin. The staff had saved him a few nasty falls along the narrow trail and it wasn’t long before he began to enter the few scattered trees just out side the clustered gathering of evergreens.

Before Kon had reached the door he collapsed to one knee. He pulled him self up refusing to surrender with a tight grip on his ash wood staff. He set his eyes on the cabin wiping away the sweat from his brow.

Just as he reached the well worn dirt yard in front of the cabin the door swung open quickly, revealing a dark interior. A tall man with a long white beard stepped forth holding a staff in his hand that looked to be made out of twisted grey wood with a tangled bulbous top. His beard hung down to a grey belt that held together his long flowing grey robe. He eyes didn’t widen like Kon would have expected to see from a man who was surprised. They held a kind but powerful malevolent look to them. He stepped out and moved quickly beside Kon.

“Friend…” his words trailed off then he collapsed to darkness.

Kon later woke in the Cabin resting on a straw mattress. His head was pounding with pain and his stomach was snarling furiously. He tried to lift him self up but he was held down by a long fingered hand. He looked over to see the same face that he had scene earlier. His wrinkled face cracked into a small smile. The old man held up a bowl wile holding Kon down. “Eat this it will give you back you streangth,” He placed the bowl to kons lips and tipped it up so the ranched smelling broth flowed easily into his mouth. It had an awful taste and smelled just as bad, to Kon it was the most wonderful thing he had ever tasted. “Slowly,” the old man spoke and tipped the bowl back down.

The broth warmed his stomach giving his satisfying relief. After a few more mouthfuls kon was allowed to sit up and hold the warm bowl in his eager hands. “Thank you kind sir,” spoke kon. The old man only nodded then stood. He turned and made his way across the small cabin to a pot of stew that hung on a blacken hook over a small fire. String it a few times he tapped a wooden spoon on the rim and placed it on the mantel above the fire. The cabin was small but cozy. The old mans staff sat by the door next to a pile of stacked fire wood and Kons own staff. The cabin held a plank table with two chairs, the bed Kon was sleeping on and an oil lamp burning in the center of the table. Modest by most standards but Kon was thankful for the man helping him even if he felt like he was intruding. “I must repay you sir for you hospitality.” Spoke Kon to the back of the old man.

The kind looking old man turned and raised an eye brow to Kon, “well you can start by sharing your name and how it was that I found you as you are.” He moved towards the table and sat down. Just then Kon noticed his sword was lying in the table in front of the old man. He wanted to rush up and retrieve it but then he thought that if the man wanted to cause him harm then he would have done so already so he relaxed and began his story first starting with introducing him self. He decided to leave out the part of how he was thought dead and become lost in the tunnels of Moria thinking the man wouldn’t believe him. He lied to him about how he had been trapping in the mountains and had to find shelter in the mountain.

The old man sat back and listened with mild interests throwing in an old question for kon to answer throughout his story. “Now my I ask who you are? Seeing how I have given you my name, not that I am not thankful for your help.” Kon placed the now finished bowl on the table.

The old man moved him self from his chair and retrieved kons bowl. He walked too the hanging pot and started to talk wile he filled the bowl with chunks of meat and vegetables. “I have many names but I don’t believe, you would know any of them.” He stood and started to walk back to kon with the now filled bowl and wooden spoon.

“Then please tell me what you are called most commonly? I don’t want to be calling you old man for the rest of the night.” Kon accepted the bowl and nodded his thanks, taking his eyes from the old man.

The old man laughed with general merriment, “I wouldn’t like that my self, although I am quite old,” he winked at Kon who gave him a frowning look. “The name if Gandalf at your service,” he gave a short bow and turned back towards the table. Were he ran his fingers down the finely crafted scabbard of kons sword.

“Well it is my good fortune to have stumbled across you Mr. Gandalf.” Kon blew across the hot wooden spoon then popped a fair size chunk of meat into him mouth.

Gandalf turned with a snap, locking Kons eyes in his. “We will see, if it is luck or misfortune. It will be pending on your intent for the future,” spoke Gandalf. The power behind the words he spoke gave Kon a bad felling to the root of his very soul. But he didn’t know who this man was or even his own intentions.
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Postby Sith~Happens1292 » Thu Jul 13, 2006 5:22 pm

“My name is Celebria. My parents traveled to the North some time ago," The girl, now known as Celebria inclined her head and smiled. "So, I am traveling north."

Iyllellowayth nodded, half-listening. Celebria had said earlier, when Ell was just outside the camp, that she supposed her father went north. Then she had said the man said nothing of her mother.

“A vague answer for a vague question. Indeed, it will suffice.” She smiled a devious smile. “Smart.” The two looked at her curiously. “Bah. Don’t mind my ramblings.

And you sir,” she continued. “What be your name? Sorry for asking, but don’t expect me to call you ‘sir’ the whole time. On the other hand, I could call you ‘old man’. Your choice.”

“What do you mean ‘the whole time’? You are not staying with us. Are you?”

Ell pulled on a mask of sadness. “You don’t enjoy my company?”

“For lack of a better word.” He said sarcastically, though he didn’t bother to smile.

“Hmph. Well, I was actually going to – Would you stop doing that?” she stood up, as did he. “Every time I ask you a question, you immediately pin it back on me. Quit changing the subject!”

“Do not tell me what to do. I have a father!”

“More like you are one.” she sat back down, this time laying out making herself comfortable. “Anyways, I had actually planned on asking you if I could stay with you for a while.”

“Why? We don’t need your help.” Evidently, the man did not want her there.

“Well, let’s just say I have my own reasons. I can help you with tracking, and even fighting. I’m not half bad if you ask me.”

”We didn’t.” He replied.

“Of course not.”

”Do you have to have the last word on everything?” he wondered aloud.

She cocked her head to the side. “Yes.” She smiled. “I’m sorry if my presence bothers you, but I would just like some companionship. Is that so much to ask for?”

“Yes.” For once, a smile twitched at his lips.

“Well, can you at least think about it? And while you are pondering that, what is your name? Must even that be a secret? Celebira – “

”Celebria.” She corrected.

“Right, CelebRIA has a little faith in me.” She stood up and grabbed an apple from a pouch on her horse. The two watched her moves fixedly. “You should too.”

She gabbed two more apples and tossed one to each of them. “Want one?”
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Postby Quimrill_Renctar » Sat Jul 15, 2006 5:07 pm

“Your right,” Luke caught the apple with his left hand and paused a moment examining it absently.

“Its not poisoned,” Ell wrinkled her nose, “Its not my style.”

“Hmm? Oh I didn’t think it was,” Luke managed a half smile, “See I have some faith.”

“Right,” Ell took a large bight out of her apple chewed twice ad asked around the mouthful, “What am I right about?”

“Oh,” Luke allowed a real smile to spread across his face, “I was a father once.”

“Ouch,” Ell winced, “I’m taking it that you used the past tense for a reason.”

Cel brow furrowed in sudden pitty, “Luke, you had children? What happened to them? If you don’t mind talking about it, that is.” She finished in a small voice.

“Three,” Luke nodded still turning the apple over in his hands, “They died.”

“How,” Ell took it upon herself to be the indelicate means of dragging the story out as Celebria was far to polite to pry into such a painful matter.

“They were killed by Orcs, along with my wife, best friend, and my students,” Despite how sad the tale sounded Luke face didn’t betray any pain, “But that was a long time ago, and my son may still be alive.”

“Killed by Orcs?” Ell asked, “Where were you at the time?”

“Hunting,” Luke for the first time actually cringed, “I wasn’t able to do anything, by the time I got back they were all dead and cold.”

“What did you do?” asked Celebria’s soft voice, oozing compassion. Luke appreciated it, but it was a long time ago and most of the pain had subsided.

“I tracked them down and killed them,” Luke finally bit into his apple.

“Ah,” Ell lifted her apple in a toast, “Good for you.”

“All that to say,” Luke’s eyes turned suddenly hard, “All that to say, don’t cross us and you’ll be fine. I wont have to kill you if you don’t hurt my companion or myself.”

“Luke, its ok…,” Celebria could see things were escalating again and sought to cut it off, “I don’t…”

“That’s what that was supposed to mean,” Ell smiled sweetly, “I was kind of curious what the point was.”

“You aren’t helping,” Celebria muttered.

“Do you understand at least what I’m saying, everything I’m saying?” Luke maintained the hard stare.

“I wont betray you guys, sheesh, don’t worry,” Ell sulked down and stared into the fire then suddenly brightened, “And I can go with you?”

“Yeah,” Luke grinned suddenly, “You can, we could use a good tracker, and an extra blade in a fight would not go amiss. I’ll trust you, but don’t make me question that decision.”

“Right, so what was your name then?” Ell sat back up leaning in as if making herself more apart of the group.

“Luke, of nowhere,” Luke extended a hand it was shaken, “Now I recommend you two get some sleep, we have an early start tomorrow.”

Celebria tried to argue briefly but Luke silenced her with many assurances that he would be just fine and reminding her that she had stayed up all night the night before.

“I’ll be fine,” Luke smiled kindly, “But if it makes you feel any better I promise I’ll wake you for your shift.”

“That would make me feel better,” She admitted, “You still aren’t back to normal, you lost a lot of blood.”

“I’ll be fine, now get some sleep,” Within minutes the camp had settled down. Luke let the fire burn down, only feeding it enough to keep the coals fresh. The next morning would hale the beginning of the real dangers as they moved further away from Minas Tirith and towards the wilds where more insidious things lurked.
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Postby Celebria » Sun Jul 16, 2006 4:27 pm

Celebria was grateful when it was her turn to keep watch. She felt restless and Luke’s story haunted her. She left the campfire and kept her watch from the top of a small rise nearby. Celebria drew her cloak about her and looked up at the stars. A lump formed in her throat each time she thought again of what Luke had revealed about his past. Though he said the tragedy had occurred a long time ago and had not spoken of it with raw grief, Celebria did not honestly know how one recovered from such a loss, if it was even possible to truly do so. Unbelievably, he also said his son could still be alive. Was Luke searching for him or had he given up hope? He smiled when he spoke of being a father which told Celebria that he had very much enjoyed it. She hoped that he had not given up and whispered a prayer for him and his son.

Celebria’s thoughts were interrupted when she felt a sudden tingle run up her spine and sensed movement behind her. Whirling quickly, she drew her sword and found herself staring into Iyllellowayth’s ebony eyes. She was in a slight crouch and holding a dagger. Iyllellowayth straightened and it was then that Celebria noticed the mischievous look on her face. “Just checking—“

“What’s going on here?” demanded Luke’s voice before Iyllellowayth could finish her explanation. He was holding a sword and the hard edge was back in his tone.

Celebria shot their new companion a mingled look of exasperation and irritation. She knew very well how Luke was interpreting the scene and could feel the tension in the air. “Iyllellowayth was doing you a favor, Luke.” Celebria kept her tone light, though her glance toward Iyllellowayth was somewhat less so. She sheathed her sword. “She’s seeing to it that my reflexes are adequate for the journey ahead.”

Luke’s stance was still tense. He looked from one woman to the other and back again. Celebria smiled reassuringly. “Go back to sleep. There is still time before we must leave.”

Luke hesitated as though he wasn’t entirely certain that he should leave them alone. Iyllellowayth rolled her eyes and put her knife away. “I’m not going to kill her.”
Luke studied the two for a moment, apparently satisfying himself that there really was no danger, then turned and walked back to the fire.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Celebria asked when Luke had gone.

The girl seemed utterly unconcerned. “He’s not going to kill me. He’d have done it by now if he was.”

Celebria sighed. “You take it for granted yet I have known others who would not be so patient and whose hands aren’t so steady. Luke has been gracious in allowing me to accompany him north. I am fine with your joining us but would ask that you do not make his task any more difficult than it already is.” Celebria cocked her head. “Besides, what makes you think he’s more worried that you’ll kill me? Perhaps he’s concerned that I will kill you.”

Iyllellowayth snorted. “No offense,” she said lifting a hand. “but you don’t look like you could kill anything.”

Celebria held her tongue. She was accustomed to such condescending remarks.

“Still,” Ell begrudgingly admitted when Celebria didn’t respond. “at least you know how to move. I don’t want to be standing next to you in a fight if all you’re going to do is scream and wait to be rescued.”

Celebria shook her head. She supposed Ell’s backhanded compliment was her way of apologizing for pretending to attack her. One thing was certain. With Iyllellowayth along, the trip would definitely not be routine.

The trio broke camp at dawn and returned to the road. They followed it as it led north and then curved around to the west. Luke set a moderately quick pace and there was little conversation. At times, Iyllellowayth would ride ahead as though to emphasize her independence and show the others that she wasn’t simply going to follow along.

“Are you going to tell me what really happened last night?” Luke asked during one of these times.

Celebria didn’t want Luke to worry. What could she say anyway? He was just beginning to trust Ell and Celebria didn’t want to interfere with that. Also, she seriously doubted he’d appreciate Ell’s particular brand of humor. “Oh, Iyllellowayth was just looking for a little girl talk,” she said evasively.

Luke raised an eyebrow. “Now why don’t I believe that?”

Celebria laughed. “You’re too suspicious,” she teased lightly.

“Maybe you aren’t suspicious enough,” he tossed back at her.

“Well then,” Celebria said with a smile. “I suppose we shall balance one another.”

After several hours, they came to the edge of the Druadan Forest. As the road bordered its eaves, Celebria peered into its darkened depths curiously. She had never ventured into this forest, but had heard much about it. “There are tales about Druadan,” she remarked to her companions. “Have you heard them, Luke?”

“Yes, this is where they say the Pukel Men still live, or Woses, as they are called in Rohan.”

“I heard that there’s some connection between them and Orcs,” Iyllellowayth said. “That they even look like Orcs.”

“My father once told me that the Pukel Men were permitted to accompany the Edain to Numenor at the end of the First Age,” Celebria said thoughtfully. “I do not think they are fell.”

“Do you believe everything your father says?” Ell asked snidely.

“I have never found any reason not to,” Celebria returned mildly.

The group continued on until they came to a place where a large branch had fallen over the road. The bushes in the area were also bent and scattered, looking as though a struggle had taken place here in the recent past.

Luke dismounted and surveyed the scene. He walked to the wood’s edge and noticed a wain with a broken wheel just off the road and saw dried blood on the ground. “I don’t like it,” he said, intending to quickly move the branch and continue on. Iyllellowayth and Celebria had gotten down as well, and Celebria studied the cart. “What if there are people hurt nearby?” she asked.

“Luke’s right,” Ell said. “Let’s just get—“ Her words were cut short when a black-feathered arrow whizzed out of the darkness and over their heads.
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