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Forums : The Silent Chronicles > A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle (Member) 1/31/2009 2:44 AM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 1)


The hot water was stripping the ache from her muscles, unwinding the tension from the length of her legs.  Tag.  She had never thought in a million centuries that at her age she would be playing this game of children.  She had never played it or any games as a child.  Not that she could remember anyway.  Rhiannon sank lower into the water, submerging herself until her chin barely broke the surface.  Surrounded by mounds of bubbles, she felt almost like a hungry predator, stalking its prey.  A smile broke across her lips with abandon as she remembered his throaty laughter.  The feel of his hands at her waist when he pulled her backwards into a bush to hide her.  The surprise in his eyes when he discovered that it was she who was “it.”  Her heart sang with happiness and contentment.

Rhiannon tilted her head back against the smooth wooden tub that Qanien had crafted for her.  Having restyled her hair back into its familiar “up do” she was taking advantage of the silence of her home to indulge herself in a nice, long soak.  Lying in the hot water, so hot that her skin glowed pink with heat of it, she closed her eyes and just relaxed.  She may have dozed off or must have in actuality.  The dream came unbidden and unexpected as it had on more than occasion since that time of terror.

It was the smell she noticed first.  The smell followed by the discomfort.  The dirt floor.  The gag that was pulling painfully at the corners of her mouth.  The ache in her shoulders from her arms being twisted and tied behind her.  She opened her eyes slowly.  First one and then the other.  Flickering flames, tongues of light, shadows dancing on the walls, floors, ceiling, faces…. faces!  Her eyes scanned the area frantically as her memory raced to put the picture into focus.  She knew this place. She had been here before.  She knew what was to happen next.

“Rhi?” 

She heard the voice to her left, but she couldn’t turn far enough to see him clearly.  She tried to speak, but with the gag and the rawness of her throat, it came out a croak.    In her frustration, she jerked and pulled at her bonds like a panicked horse. 

“Rhi, take it easy,” Nirnaeth spoke softly.  “You’re going to hurt yourself.”


“No,” she screamed in her mind.  “He’s coming.  I know what happens next.  I know what you’ll do for me.  Don’t” She struggled against her bonds with renewed force.

“Well, well, well…. Look who’s finally awake,”said a voice of sour silk.  “Hope you slept well, Princess.”  The Angmarian leaned over her so that she could see him.  “Well, you’re not really a princess, are you?”  He lowered himself down into a squat as if to inspect her.  “You could have been, had your mother not rutted with a simple, stupid guardsman.” 

“No,” she commanded herself.  “Don’t do it.  Don’t react.  Don’t…”

A blink and the movement would be missed.  Though it caused her considerable pain, it provided some satisfaction when by arching her back and leaning back on her hands, she was able to kick her feet out, hit him squarely and unbalance him enough to send him sprawling. 

“No,” she sobbed brokenly.  “I can’t stop it.  I can’t watch.”

Regaining his feet, the Angmarim's eyes flashed with anger, and roughly he hauled her to her feet. A pair of orcs seems to materialize out of nowhere and hold her roughly so her toes barely brushed the ground.

This time though, she strained to look her tormentor fully in the face.  It was hard to do in the flickering light with his hooded robe.  Her eyes were drawn to a small scar high on his cheekbone.  A scar that seemed to mean something to her.  “No,” she whimpered.

The Angmarim drew a short dagger from his sleeve and began to coat it with an evil looking green coloured substance some distant part of her mind recognised as a poisonous salve, one designed to burn through the bloodstream and cause immeasurable torment without the blessed release of death. The anger is his eyes faded, to be replaced with dark anticipation. "I'm going to enjoy this, Princess" he sneered. "Just a wound, for starters, of course. You're too valuable to kill just yet"

Her eyes watched the blade close in on her arm.


Her eyes were drawn to his hands.  Hands familiar.  Fingers bare except a pair of rings, one on each of his forefingers.  One of brilliant silver, the other of some tarnished and worthless alloy.  Two rings.  Both known to her. 

Water sloshed over the sides of the tub as she thrashed and gasped herself back to awareness. 

“Rhiannon?”  Roseredd’s voice called from the next room.  “Are you alright in there?  Is there something you….” Little Redd’s voice stopped and she clucked like a mother hen.  “All this water on the floor.  I don’t know why you spent all that gold to have this floor put in when you….” She stopped and looked at Rhiannon more closely.  “Rhiannon.  What is wrong?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost?”

Despite the heat of the room, the Elven woman was shaking uncontrollably. Grabbing a large drying cloth from nearby, she wrapped herself hastily and stepped from the tub.  “Don’t you ever knock,” she said sharply.

“Well, yes,” Little Redd replied indignantly.  “When the door is locked…. And if there is nothing within that needs my attention.”  The little Hobbit watched Rhiannon as she hastily dressed.  “Rhiannon.  What is wrong?”

“Practicing your diving skills, dear cousin?”  Raveniel’s voice came from the doorway as the loremaster studied the mess.  “I heard that there were reports from Celondim a few months ago that someone was spotted diving in the harbour.  Old tongues were telling that it was someone looking for the … what did they call it?  Oh, yes, the Ring of the Nightingale.”  She stopped to light her pipe, not noticing or pretending to not notice at any rate that Rhiannon’s frantic motions had fallen to absolute stillness. 

“I knew it couldn’t be you.  You can swim passably, but you can’t dive to save your sword, much less recover a worthless bit of jewellery.”  She quirked an eyebrow as she studied a smoke ring that rose into the air.  “And if you were hoping to be prepared in case that… man were to gird his loins and ask Elrond for your hand, you wouldn’t give him that cursed piece of tat.”

With an uncharacteristic snarl, Rhiannon advanced on Raveniel and took her by the throat, propelling her backwards and against the nearest wall.  “Say it again.”  Her voice was desperate.

“Say what,” came the choked reply.  “Rhi, honest.  I don’t care if you marry him, just do it right for the sake of …. Rhi!  I… can’t… breathe!”

“The ring.  My ring.  Did they get it?  Is it still there?”  Her hold had relaxed marginally to give the woman some air. 

“I don’t know.  No one knows.  It’s not like you can see it from shore or the docks.”  Raveniel’s hands tried to pull the one from her throat.  “You’re stronger than you look, dear cousin.  These starlight rides must be agreeing with you.”  She squeaked as the hold tightened again.  “They just said there was someone diving in the moonlight for a few days and then they were gone.  No one knows for sure what they were there for.”  She coughed as she was released and rubbed her throat.  “Where are you going?”

“Where ARE you going,” echoed Roseredd.  “You’re not properly dry.  The air is cold.  You’ll catch your death.”

“He’ll know,” Rhiannon muttered to no one as she jammed her feet into her boots and fastened them quickly.  She grabbed her new cloak from the row of pegs and threw it around her shoulders as her fingers shook and trembled while she tried three times to secure the clasp.  Finally on the fourth try, it held.  “He must remember,” she whispered as she threw open the door and called for her horse.

“Rhiannon!”  Roseredd called after her.

“Rhi!” Raveniel dashed for the door just in time to see her cousin vault into the saddle, kicking her mount into a wild canter before she was properly settled into her seat.  The wild clatter of hoofbeats on the roads made a few hobbit doors open and curtains twitch in curiosity.

“Please let her find him,”  Raveniel whispered in an almost reverent prayer to the star filled sky and closed the door against the night as Whitwich returned to its peaceful slumbers.



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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 1/31/2009 2:47 AM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 2)

(A Collaboration between Rhiannon and Nirnaeth of The Silver Blades)



The moon and stars bathed the roads in silver, guiding the anxious rider along the Shire roads towards her destination.   Where only hours earlier her heart had been filled with a song of sweeping melodies and uplifting chords, a song of such exquisite joy and emotion so sweet that she dared not give voice to its name, her heart now pulsed and raced with a frantic tempo laced with fear.

Fear.  In all her years in Middle Earth it was the one emotion that she was perhaps the most unfamiliar with.  She was familiar with the feelings of trepidation and dread.  She understood them and harnessed them appropriately.  This was not even remotely similar.  This was the kind of bone chilling, heart rending fear that made people do irrational things.   People occasionally called her impulsive.  On rare occasions, impetuous.  Never irrational.

She had passed through Stock and over the Brandywine Bridge ages ago, the shoes of her horse ringing on stone and showering sparks as they flew.    Now she passed through Adso’s camp.  Her horse was blowing hard and flecks of foaming sweat coated parts of her leather armour, reminiscent of her earlier bubbly relaxation.  She leaned low over his neck and crooned encouragingly into his ear.  It swiveled to catch her words and tones and regaining some strength surged forward with renewed energy.

Over the last bridge and they were at the gate.  She pulled hard on the reins, her mount lifting his forelegs high into the air. She dropped the hood of her cloak so the watch could identify her.

“Lady Rhiannon,” the guard acknowledged as he let her pass.

And pass she did.  With haste, she spun her exhausted horse into the town.  The streets were empty but for a few drunks stumbling home and the town watch that patrolled.  No one took notice of the cloaked figure on horseback as it sprinted up the long hill.

She slid from the saddle, ignoring the fatigue that made her legs tremble so badly that she could hardly remain upright.  With a steadying hand on her mount, she rubbed the bay’s neck in silent thanks.  He pushed his forehead to her chest so that she could give his ears a quick fondle.  With a strained smile, she stroked his velvet muzzle and turned towards The Prancing Pony.

Barliman Butterbur was cleaning the last of the pottery from the evening’s patrons.  He looked weary and longing for his bed.  “I’m sorry, m’lady, we’re closed for the night,” he said without looking up.  “If you come back in the…”

“Nirnaeth Elemmire,” she spoke softly and urgently, giving the name the proper Elven inflection.  “What room is he in?”  She reached across the bar and took his hand, pressing coinage into his plump palm.

Barliman looked up in surprise.  “Lady Rhiannon,” he fairly stammered.  “You do not need to purchase information from me.”  He looked at her more closely.  “I say, are you well?  You are practically…”

“I am not purchasing information, Mister Butterbur, I am buying your silence and discretion.”  She smiled through her grimace, icy fingers pressing the coins more firmly into his hand.  A hand that knew how needed these coins were for his sickly child.  “Please.”

“Through the back, up the stairs, second door on the right,” he said.  “But don’t you want to sit and have something hot to drink by the fire first?  Your hand is like ice!”  The last of his words were heard by none except Molly, a serving girl who was wiping down the sturdy and worn tables.

Long, lithe legs bounded up the stairs.  Silently and with catlike tread she traversed the hall to the appropriate door.  Through the window at the end of the hall, she could see the stars with more intensity as the moon had set early this night.  It was hard to breathe again, the fear was clawing its way across her skin, tightening around her throat.  She kept seeing the hands, the fingers, the rings, the scar.  Her ears heard the inflection when he called her “Princess.”  Real or a dream?  Awake or asleep?  Panic gripped her and she flattened herself against the door, trying to make herself invisible.  Was he awake?  What would he say?  What answers did he hold?

She lifted her hand and rapped her knuckles sharply at the door.  With furtive glances she surveyed the various doors to see if any opened with curiosity.  Her ears picked up no sounds from within.  Her hand turned sideways and with her fist she pounded more loudly, a panicked tempo.  She thought she heard footsteps!  What if it wasn’t a dream?  What if it was real?  What if it was…. 

----------

Nirnaeth had gone directly to his room after saying good night. It had been a wonderful evening - the silly game of tag, their shared laugher as they chased each other like children, then the lake under the starlight and that ludicrous bear. He undressed carefully, taking especial care to hang his cloak (her cloak) up. He fell asleep almost as soon as his head had hit the pillow, the trace of a smile still visible on his face.

Barely  two hours had passed before he woke again - sitting up abruptly as a cold shiver passed through him. He had been dreaming, at first pleasant dreams under moon and starlight, but then a cold, dark dream. He shuddered involuntarily. No, not a dream. A memory.

Before he could think further on the matter, he heard footsteps in the corridor outside. Rhiannon?" he wondered silently, for somehow he felt sure she was on her way here. He moved to open the door, but then stopped. Something wasn't right. And then he knew, again with absolute certainty, that it was not Rhiannon that now stood outside his door.

Instinctively Nirnaeth looked around the room for his weapons, then remembered that he had brought none with him that evening. Something that had probably been noted in the common room as he passed through it to his room. Then he remembered his Silver Blade, the mark of his kinship. It was small and certainly not very sharp, but it was all he had.

He pulled sharply on the cord round his neck, the clasp breaking, and slowly, carefully, eased back into bed, eyes closed, the small blade now in his palm. There was a click from the door as the tumblers in the lock dropped, and the door eased open. A man in black entered, quickly shutting the door behind him. He drew a small stiletto blade from his belt and stepped towards the sleeping form of Nirnaeth. He bent low to bring the blade above the sleeping Captain's heart, drawing the sheet back slowly, so very slowly. He raised the blade and struck down sharply, hard and true

Nirnaeth had lain there, eyes closed and feigning sleep while the man entered the room and padded over to the bed. He had to let him get close enough to use the small blade in his hand, but not so close that it was too late. "Difficult, Nirnaeth" he silently chided himself "Wrong choice, as always". The agonising seconds passed and still he forced himself to be still, to breathe deep and regularly. Then he felt the cover above him pulled back slowly. "Too late, you idiot". The thought ran through his head faster than lightning, fear and adrenaline surging in their wake. He opened his eyes and rolled to the right, towards his attacker, and felt the knife score his ribs, a bright burning line. At the moment, his memory flared, triggered, perhaps by the pain. His eyes widened for a second, then he forced his mind back to the present.

But now, the attacker had his knife in Nirnaeth's side, and his movement had twisted it from his grasp. Nirnaeth struck, punching up with the small blade into the man's exposed throat. He made a small gurgling sound, then slumped to the floor, dead before he reached it.

Nirnaeth took the weapon from his attacker and bound his scored ribs with strips of his sheet. The wound was deep, but not, he hoped, fatal. "Not that you deserve to live after that fool idea" he berated himself. "I have to get to Rhiannon, before it's too late" He grabbed his scant belongings and left the room. The Prancing Pony was no longer a place of safety for him. He left via a window in the back of the Inn, wincing as he dropped to the ground outside. The sound of hooves echoed down the cobbled streets as a rider raced wildly up the hill to the Inn. He recognised the horse and the rider - it was Rhiannon, but with eyes wild and hair streaming, disorderly, behind her. He shouted weakly at her to stop, but, unhearing, she had run into the inn.

Nirnaeth followed her back inside, past the startled Barliman and back to the landing outside his room. Hearing his footsteps, she turned to him, her eyes full of fear and sorrow. "Rhiannon" he called, "it's me, Nirnaeth". She looked, uncomprehending, for a moment, then recognition came and she flung herself into his arms, sobbing wildly.

"I know," he said, "I know". He stroked her hair as he held her close, her sobs gradually subsiding as she took control of herself once more. Finally, she disengaged herself from his arms and looked up at him. "Tell me" she said, "what was it you saw"

Nirnaeth took a deep breath, grasped both of Rhiannon's hands. "That Angmarim in the Ettenmoors", he said. "He was an elf". Her shuddering cry saw him engulf her in his arms once more.

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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 1/31/2009 2:50 AM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 3)


The now moonless night wrapped Nirnaeth and Rhiannon in a protective blanket of darkness as they rode for Wilstead. The condition of Rhiannon’s mount necessitated a slower pace, but the urgency of their travel required some speed. As they passed through the shadows of the Chetwood, she hummed to Randir to encourage and strengthen him. Already pushed to his limits earlier, she now feared he would suffer more permanently, but it could not be helped. Nirnaeth had been quite adamant that they should leave the Pony and Bree immediately. When she had suggested that she get a room and they wait until morning, his insistence had grown. She puzzled over it as they rode.

Rhiannon’s eyes picked out the yellow tree that stood outside the ruins of Ost Baranor in the Chetwood South. The brigands that lived within were cowardly by nature and it was unlikely that they would choose this particular pair of travellers for a target, but the Elven woman did not want to take any chances. She urged Randir with soft words as she squeezed lightly with her knees. “Not much farther now, brave one.”

Unexpectedly, Nirnaeth’s horse veered suddenly bumping hers. Rhiannon looked to her accompanying horse and rider in concern which quickly turned to alarm. “Nirn,” she called to him urgently noting his unnatural positioning the saddle. Getting no response from him, she brought Randir up carefully alongside and reaching over, took hold of the reins that were gripped tightly in Nirnaeth’s hands. She pulled back firmly yet gently, echoing the movement with her bay’s reins as well.

“I’m fine,” he murmured with a grimace as she leapt from the seat of her still moving horse and stood next to him, trying to scrutinize the stoic captain in the now cursed blackness of the night. Randir took a few steps further and stopped, dropping his head to the ground and sucking air into his lungs.

“You’re not,” Rhiannon responded. “Something’s wrong. You’re…” She pulled her hand back from his leg as she felt the warm stickiness that had seeped from his wound, soaking the side of his shirt and down onto his leggings. “Bleeding.” Without asking another question, she strode to where Randir stood, ignoring the protestations that were coming from the man.

Lifting the stallion’s head, she gently eased the Elven leather of his bridle over his ears, removing it. She murmured a few words of Elvish into his equine ears, grabbed her saddle bags and with the crack of her hand against his rump punctuating the night’s silence, sent him off into the night.

“Rhi, we have to …. It’s not that….” Nirnaeth protested.

Still she remained silent as an unfamiliar anger burned in her blood. Taking the reins from his hands, she led his horse to a nearby fallen tree and used it to gingerly mount in front of the wounded man. “Can you hold onto me,” she asked, her voice gentle and soothing. “Come on, my hero. Hold on,” she encouraged as she gripped the sides of his horse with her leather clad knees.

Clucking encouragement to the unfamiliar ride, she snapped the reins and urged him forward into a gently rocking canter. “Hold on, nin’melda,” she commanded gently though her eyes glittered fiercely. “Just hold on.” They rode through the night as swiftly as Nirnaeth’s ride could negotiate with two riders. Rhiannon hummed and sang, weaving tunes of fortitude, soothing, and strength into one seamless tune.

The dawn birds were just beginning to stir as the horse and riders turned into the yard of The Silver Blades. All was quiet as the tempo of hoofbeats slowed and stopped. Rhiannon slipped carefully from the saddle still singing, still talking in quiet tones to the man who had ceased to respond miles ago. The front door to the building opened and footsteps hurried towards them.

“My Captain” quietly exclaimed an aging voice with concern. A man, not quite elderly came quickly beside the cloaked woman and helped her to divest the horse of its remaining, slumping rider.

“Arneodiad, I presume,” Rhiannon spoke quickly and without waiting for reply. “Help me get him inside. Carefully. I know not where his wound is though I can guess.”

Of course, Lady Rhiannon,” he replied as he helped to shoulder the limp man’s weight. He turned as if to call for more assistance until he felt a hand on his arm.

“Please, don’t wake the others just yet,” she beseeched. “I don’t believe he is in any immediate danger, but I need to be able to assess his wound quickly. If it turns out to be nothing more than a scratch, he won’t want a fuss made.” She squeezed his arm encouragingly. “If it is something I can’t handle, we’ll summon for help immediately. I promise.”

The older man studied her for a moment, making a decision. Though he had never met the woman, he knew quite a bit about her from listening to his captain. Nirnaeth’s descriptions of her were so accurate that even in the misty light of morning there could be no mistaking her identity. “Quickly. The adventurers will be rising soon.” He gestured for a boy to take the lone horse to the stables. Rhiannon grabbed her saddlebags as it passed by.

The pair half-carried, half-dragged the kin leader through the hall and up the many stairs to the small set of rooms at the top of the building. They continued through the sitting area that also doubled as a small office and into the modest bedroom they took him. As Arneodiad, laid the unconscious form on the bed, Rhiannon shut the door and closed the shutters.

Exhaustion pulled at her eyes and the corners of her mouth as she grabbed her bags and re-entered the sleeping area. “Leave him, Arn,” she said quietly as she placed a comforting hand on the man’s arm. “I’ll need some things. Don’t tell anyone we’re here yet.” She rattled off a list of items that she felt they might need and then turned to Nirnaeth on the bed. She waited until she heard the door close as Arn hurried out. Again a surge of anger shot through her as she carefully stroked his face and brushed the silver hair away. She touched his forehead, checking for signs of fever.

Singing quietly under her breath, she removed his cloak, rolling him carefully and wincing when he groaned. The area of the wound was more apparent as his shirt was freshly soaked. Reaching into her bag, she withdrew a small, sharp blade and carefully sliced through his shirt, peeling it back from his torso, revealing his attempt at bandaging. She heard a rattle of crockery behind her and waved Arn closer. Looking over the tray of items she nodded approvingly and gestured for him to set it down.

“In the bag, good sir. Bring me the pouches.” She carefully cut the bandages apart and with great tenderness separated them from the wound. She seemed to examine the edges of the traumatized area, bending her head low to smell it. “There do not seem to be any signs of poison,” she concluded. “There is no discolouration, no odor,” she pointed carefully to the precise edges of the slash. “There are no signs of necrosis.” She took some rags and dipped them into the water, wringing them out before beginning to clean the area. “He was lucky.” Nirnaeth moaned at the ministrations.

Pointing to one of the pouches, she directed Arn to brew a strong tea from it. “It smells awful and doesn’t taste much better. Oh, or if there is any beef broth to be had… you could seep it in a mixture of equal parts water and broth. He’s lost a lot of blood and will need to recover his strength quickly.” Again, the faithful man servant left them and she returned to her duties. Taking another of the pouches, she opened it and sprinkled the wound with a powdered herb.

Leaving it to seep into the open wound, she noted with satisfaction that clotting was finally beginning as the blood thickened and congealed. The ride could have fatally hindered the process by not giving the wound time to set. She hoped they were in time. Removing a small piece of folded leather from her trusty bag of tricks, she opened it to reveal a set of needles. Checking the skin around the wound once more, she chose a needle and an appropriate weight thread. As she threaded the needle with precision, Arn returned with the drink. “Let it cool for a few minutes, please,” she asked. “Would you please sit there, next to him. You may need to hold his shoulders down. I don’t imagine he’ll be too much trouble. He’s very weak.”

She leaned her lips close to Nirnaeth’s ear. “Be still, Nirnaeth. This may hurt. Be still.” She touched his cheek and began to sing again. With careful stitches, she pulled the edges of the wound together, anchoring each stitch with a fine knot. To her surprise, Nirnaeth lay quiet and still. So still that she would occasionally take his wrist and feel for his life beat. Finally, the once gaping wound was now a tidy line with almost decorative tassels of raven black. She stood to examine her work, then bent and kissed Nirnaeth’s forehead.

“You can give him the broth now, Arn,” she said wearily. “He’ll need some clean clothes and…”

“I know, my lady,” Arn said not unkindly. “Go sit by the fire and rest. You look as if you are going to fall down any moment.”

“Thank you,” she looked uncertain, unwilling to leave his side. She tidied up her belongings and removed a slim, leather bound book from within her bag. She laid it carefully on the small table by the bedside and touched his hair once again. “The drink should help him rest more easily as well.”

“Oh, m’lady,” Arn stopped her as she moved across the room. “I thought you would want to know that your horse has arrived. I’ve had him stabled with the other.”

She smiled her thanks and pulled a chair as close to the fire as possible, still within sight of her patient. Her slender frame had begun to shake from the stress of the night’s activities. The aroma of a fruit tea caught her attention and she noticed the generous mug of the still warm liquid on a nearby table and smiled. “Nirnaeth is right. You are a treasure, Arn.” Taking it between her palms, she warmed her hands and drank from it. Liberally laced with brandy, she grinned as the warmth of it absorbed into her bloodstream. “A true treasure.”

The day was brightening. The birds where singing and as the morning broke, Rhiannon finally slept. She did not even stir when a soft blanket was draped around her upright form.

The sun was well past the midday mark when Nirnaeth awoke with a start, the memory of the previous evening crashing through the black wall of unconsciousness his mind had laid behind.

He sat up very slowly and gingerly, taking in the sleeping Rhiannon , the neat row of stitches in his still throbbing side, and the little extras in the room such as the drink within Rhiannon’s reach that were sure signs that Arn was about. His eyes rested on her sleeping form for a while, then he noticed the small leather book placed strategically by his beside. Careful not to strain his new stitches, he picked up the book and began to read.

Arn came in with some broth, and forced him to stop reading while he spoon fed him its contents, but aside from this interruption, Nirnaeth was undisturbed in his reading. He read slowly, steadily, his already pale face looking more and more drawn as he turned the pages. His gaze would rest from time to time on the still-sleeping Rhiannon. "However did she find the strength to deal with all this" he marvelled, "and still have such a heart, such lightness in her? To have gone through all that, and still find the hope and the strength to sing again!"

Towards the end of the book, his grim visage lightened and gave way to a boyish smile. "Spun starlight" he muttered, blushing slightly. He kept reading, until at last he came to last page. "1754 years old," he exclaimed. Then he read the final lines, and then re-read them. And read them again, his eyes shining.

Arn returned, and Nirnaeth quickly closed the book and placed it back on the table. "You're looking better already" Arn said as he inspected the recuperating man. "She has a rare talent for healing does that one," Arn noted, nodding at the sleeping elf. "Now, let's get some more of this broth in you."

After Arn's ministrations were seen off once more, Nirnaeth gingerly moved from the bed and lowered himself into the chair next to Rhiannon. She still slept deeply, but the lines of exhaustion had gone from her face. It was a shame to wake her, but he needed to tell her his tale from the previous evening, more than ever after reading her own.

He shook her shoulder gently with his good arm. "Wake up Rhiannon" he said softly...

Wrapped in the safety of a dreamless blackness, for her exhaustion and distress had finally forced her body to simply shut down, she had not noticed when someone sat near her. However, when Nirnaeth touched her shoulder she jumped, a startled deer in an unfamiliar forest. She quickly remembered where she was and how she came to be there. A smile broke over her features as she recognized Nirnaeth and then clouded over into a frown. “You shouldn’t be out of bed,” she scolded as she stretched the stiffness out of her legs and back. “If you’ve ruined all my handiwork, I’ll… I’ll….” Her lower lip trembled for a moment as the relief that he was still alive and breathing washed through her. She lowered her head and closed her eyes. “I was afraid I had lost you.”

With a snap her head shot up. “And what did you think you were doing riding out in the middle of the night with a hole the size of the Gap of Rohan in your side?” She grabbed his nearest hand firmly, almost punishingly. “When Pansy nearly knocked me off my horse, I thought you had lost your mind… not half your weight in blood!”

Nirnaeth, looking uncomfortable, blushed. Rhiannon waited for the inevitable denial, that there was nothing to worry about. Her stoic hero to pretend everything was all right. Nirnaeth opened his mouth to speak.

"I'm sorry, Rhiannon", he said. "I should have told you once we got out of Bree, but I had thought I could manage without worrying you any further than you already were, and I didn't want us to stop in case there were more of them. Instead, I've made matters worse, and put you through even more worry." He squeezed her hand back, "I won't do that to you again"

"Well, you're right about that.." Rhiannon began, then realised what Nirnaeth had said. "What do you mean about more of them? More of whom? What exactly did happen in the Pony last night?"

Nirnaeth told her about the events of the previous evening, sparing no detail.

”I will have to have words with Arn about allowing you to leave without being armed in some way. These are dangerous times that we live in Nirnaeth, as you well know,” she said solemnly. “ It’s a lesson I learned a long time ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I suspect that you know it as well, but may have been… distracted.” She chewed her lower lip as she considered the circumstances.

"It was my choice to go unarmed" Nirnaeth said. "You cannot blame yourself for my actions." He tried a reassuring smile "Besides, I could have taken every weapon I possess and it still wouldn't have stopped me being stabbed in my sleep."

Rhiannon did not look reassured. "If you had been wearing your armour, it would have turned the blade" she retorted. "The mention of the blade recalled to her a question she had meant to ask before.

“You say that you took the man’s weapon. Do you still have it,” she queried.

“I had it with me. I don’t know where it is now, the ride, and my…. injury, I don’t know what became of it.” He looked disappointed in himself. “I’m sorry.”

As if summoned, Arn appeared in the doorway and cleared his throat to alert them of his presence before entering. Carrying a small tray, he stepped within and set it on a nearby table. It held two steaming mugs of which one had to be the fruit tea from the previous evening judging by the smell, a bowl of thick stew accompanied a plate of crusty bread and some sliced fruit.

In the middle of the tray, lay the dagger.

“I thought perhaps my lord could move to a more solid food,” Arn asked Rhiannon with polite deference. “Since he seems to think he is well enough to leave his bed, I thought perhaps it was in order.”

“That’s fine, Arn,” Rhiannon responded warmly.

“The bread is fresh and I brought the fruit for you. I was not sure what food preferences you have. I could bring something else for you if you like.”

“No, thank you,” she smiled. “My appetite has not quite returned to me. This will be fine.” She lifted the dagger from the tray and inspected it carefully.

“I found that among my lord’s things last night. I’m sorry if I’ve done wrongly, but I did clean it,” Arn explained. “It was covered with blood and you had said that there were no signs of poison…” his words trailed off when he realized that she was focusing on the object and not him.

“If there had been poison, we would know it by now,” she said distractedly.

Nirnaeth thanked Arn and picked up his bowl of stew. “What are you thinking?” He pushed the plate of fruit closer to her encouragingly. Her face had closed off all expression as if a curtain had dropped between them.

She turned the blade over and over between her fingers, checking the balance, examining the carved and etched handle. Carefully, she checked the point and the sharpness of the blade. “You’re the weaponsmith,” she said coolly as she presented the weapon to him handle first. “What do you see?”

Nirnaeth took it carefully from her and began his own assessment. He looked at it from all angles, judging it, estimating its value, determining its worth as a blade. He felt its weight and closely scrutinized the handle. After a few minutes he looked at her. “I would have been ashamed to die by this blade,” he commented drily. “It’s Elven in design, but it appears to be almost a copy of another weapon. The balance is poor, the workmanship on the handle is obviously not original and must have come from a mould where the original would have been done by hand. The stones are fake.” He set it down on the table and looked at her questioningly.

“I see a message,” she said quietly. “If the assassin would have succeeded in the mission, the blade would have been left in your body. If he did not, you would find it. In any case, I would eventually see it.” She tried to look to his bedside to see if the book had been moved, but she couldn’t see past him. “There are things you should know.”

“And I do,” he responded quietly tilting his head to catch her gaze. "I read it,” he said glancing at the journal half-hidden under the pillow. "About him, and the ring. You think that that Angmarim is Firbir, don't you? That's why you came riding to me in such a mad hurry." She nodded, numbly. "I think you're right" he said, and he described the flash of memory he had had the previous evening.

"It was when he came, and called you “princess.”  You surprised him with that kick, do you remember, and he fell?" She nodded briefly" Something about that unsettled me, but with the beating and the rescue, I was driven from my mind. Only last night did it return to me." He paused slightly, then spoke slowly. "When he landed, his hood fell back for a moment. He had elven ears. I'm sorry, Rhiannon."

She shook her head. "I think I knew anyway, but like you, needed the time to realise it"

“I …. I have been having dreams,” she said quietly. “Dreams that centered around our…. Imprisonment. Finally, that night, I was able to see more in the dream than previously, a scar, his hands… the rings.” She involuntarily shuddered. “Mine recovered, his reforged.” Her hands twisted in her lap. “And then Raveniel told me about a rumour that started before our abduction about someone diving in the harbour at Celondim.” Her hands stilled. “In my heart, I knew. I needed to see you. Speak to you. Find out if you had any memories. I needed to know that you were alright.” She gave a half-smile and attempted a glare. “Which you weren’t.”

Nirnaeth gave her a weak smile in return. “As you seem to like to remind me at every opportunity.” They sat in silence together, yet alone in their thoughts. “Why do you think he…”

“I don’t know.” The dangerous glitter to her eyes returned. “There is no love lost between us. No grand betrayal…. On my part at least.” She pondered. “I’ve always seen him as some reincarnation of Eol.”

“But, I thought he left with your… with Vonavin,” he prodded. The stew was long since gone and he plucked a slice of bread from the plate. He looked at Rhiannon's untouched plate. “Do I need to get Arn over here to feed you,” he said with a quirked brow. “He can be very persuasive.”

Rhiannon reached out and selected a few pieces of the fruit before resettling herself in her seat. “Who knows what happened once the ship left shore? He may have disembarked further downstream, or for all I know they may have thrown him into the Lhun after being exposed to his arrogance for too long.” She popped another piece of fruit into her mouth. Having tasted its sweetness, her appetite seemed to be reviving.

“You,” she said as she stood, “are looking tired, and I need to check those stitches before you fall asleep again.” She planted herself in front of him and offered him her hands. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“I’m perfectly capable of … whoa,” he said as he stood too quickly, making himself slightly dizzy. He grabbed her hands reflexively and she slipped closer to support him. Using her as a guide, they carefully returned to his bedside. Starlight was once more winking in the night sky. He sat carefully, trying to hide the wince as his soreness made itself apparent.

“Stay there, please,” she ordered as she went in search of her bag.

“Yes, Miss,” he murmured. “As if I could go very far…. Or would want to.”

Rhiannon’s heart skipped a beat and she allowed herself a small and genuine smile. He must be feeling better. She felt her face warm with pleasure. “Watch it,” she called back to him. “I heard that.” She was careful to regain her composure before turning to face him. “Pointy ears, remember?”

She carried with her a small jar of salve as she crossed the room. Rhi sat on her heels as she lifted the bottom hem of the clean shirt that Arn had managed to get on Nirnaeth while they had both slept. Her fingers gently touched it for signs of heat. “No, no infection.” She checked the stitches and when she was satisfied that all was as it should be, opened the salve. Dipping her first two fingers into the greasy looking goop, she tenderly applied it to the area conscious of the little grunts of discomfort that occasionally came from her patient. She hummed softly in response.

“I’ll leave some of this with Arn when I leave,” she told him as she helped him to lie back into his bed and straightened to stand. “It will help keep the area supple so you don’t….” She nearly yipped in surprise as his hand caught her wrist and pulled her closer.

“Leave,” he said seriously with no sign of the previous humour in his voice. “Where do you think you are going?”

“Nowhere soon, evidently,” she said dryly, arching her eyebrow. “We have much to discuss, Nirn,” she responded, her voice softening, soothing. She sat on the edge of the bed, removing his fingers gently from her wrist and stroking his hand in a calming manner. "And we can't do anything yet with you in this state," Rhiannon continued. "Rest, and then we'll decide what needs to be done, what can be done.” Her face and voice were once again showing signs of weariness, the spectre of her past returning.

"I will" Nirnaeth replied. "But, first, there is something else I need to tell you." It know it's not the best time, but..." His voice trailed off and he swallowed nervously. "When I said I had read it, I didn't mean just the bit about Firbir." He clasped both her hands, looked at her intently. "I read all of it. Right to the last page."

"And?" she said, trying to remain impassive, her voice neutral, refusing to meet his eyes for fear of what she would find there.

Nirnaeth smiled. "I liked the ending very much" he said. "Very much indeed."

“I’m glad,” she replied as a wide smile curled itself like a satisfied cat across her lips. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his forehead and looked at him directly. “No matter what the coming days bring, remember those words and that they are the truest words ever written for I wrote them from my heart.” She touched his hair fondly before moving her chair to his bedside. Curling her legs beneath herself, she settled into it, tucking a blanket around her legs. “Now, sleep and heal, Nirnaeth. I will watch over you.” She kept her vigil until his breathing deepened and evened out as he drifted into healing slumber and then she closed her eyes as well.

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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 1/31/2009 2:53 AM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 4)


The night passed slowly. Rhiannon slept fitfully, waking often at the noises of the unfamiliar place. She would arise and check Nirnaeth, a touch to his forehead, fingers on his wrist before resettling herself from her watchful perch. The stars still shone when she surrendered to her fate and passed from the bedroom into the informal sitting room. Arn rose from his seat as she entered.

“Go get some sleep, faithful one,” she said gently. “You’ve been long without rest. I’ll keep watch since peace evades me.” The older man murmured something about making her some more tea and left her alone in the small room. It held a few chairs and table. A fireplace with a dying fire warmed the room.

Rhiannon moved restlessly, fidgeting with this and that. The confirmation of her fear should have calmed her with the knowing, but instead she felt flighty. She felt….. angry. “How dare he,” she muttered to herself. “How DARE he? I was nothing to him. Nothing.” She padded silently across the floor, pacing with catlike fluidity. Her eyes spotted the dagger that they had examined not so long ago. Arn had removed it from the bedroom and now it sat on what Nirnaeth appeared to use as a desk of sorts.

Her hands reached for it. Handling it gingerly as if it might find a way to pierce her on its own, she looked at the blade and all she could see was Nirnaeth’s side, gaping, bleeding. His life blood spilling scarlet on his pale skin. His hands clammy and lifeless. His eyes closed. His lips cold to the touch. Sticking the blade in her belt, she felt the sudden need to flee. He had almost been killed. “Because of me,” she whispered hoarsely, raggedly.

With a flurry of activity, she packed up her belonging, her pouches, her needles. Torn between fight and flight, she stood looking in at the sleeping man. Trying to memorize the planes of his face, the curve of his lips, the arch of his eyebrows. With a sigh, she knew she could never leave without speaking to him. Taking her saddle bags into the bedroom with her, she sat in her position of vigilance and began to watch over him as she had promised to do. “You promised him,” she whispered to herself. “You promised.”

The sky was showing no signs of the coming dawn and Nirnaeth was showing no signs of awakening. She couldn’t keep still, couldn’t find comfort in her chair. Finally, with a sigh, she did what she was afraid she would never be able to do if she didn’t take this one chance. She removed her boots with great care, setting them next to her seat. The cursed knife was removed from her belt and she tucked it carefully in one of her packs.

She studied his face once more before moving to the other side of the bed, the side where his body was unmarred by violence, pain, or danger. Carefully, so as to not disturb him, she crept onto the bed and gingerly, timidly moulded herself to him, her head resting on his chest. Absorbing his warmth through the blanket between them, she closed her eyes and committed the feeling to more than her memory, but etched it onto her soul. She held her breath as he stirred next to her, ready to escape if needed. His arm moved protectively around her shoulders and held her in place, and still he slept. Listening to him breathe, hearing the sound of his heart beating inside his chest, she was calmed and finally fell into the sleep that had eluded her. She did not register when, once again, unseen hands covered her with a blanket to ward off the chill.

Nirnaeth woke first. As he surfaced from his dreaming, a soft smile played on his lips. His eyes took in the room, the bags packed, the boots by the chair, and finally he dared to look down at the sleeping form nestled against his side. It was no dream that would melt like morning mist before the rising sun, it was flesh and blood and real. “She stayed” he whispered to himself. He allowed himself the luxury of just lying there, enjoying her. The handle of the knife caught his eye and he knew he couldn’t stay there forever, no matter how hard he wished. There were matters at hand to be dealt with. Matters that required his attention. “Our attention,” he amended in his mind. She was letting him in. Would she push him out again?

He reluctantly gave her shoulders a squeeze with his arm and whispered against her hair, “Rhiannon.” He kept his voice calm. “Rhiannon.” A long, drawn out groan rumbled next to him and he could feel her body stretching against his with her characteristically feline grace. Suddenly he thought his heart was going to leap out of his chest, such was the strength of the emotion that he found himself engulfed by.

“Oh, no,” came a strangled cry as she realized where she was. “I was supposed to wake up first! I shouldn’t still be here! I’m so sorry,” she jabbered as she tried to untangle herself from his arm and the blanket. The arm suddenly tightened and she was held captive.

“Deep breath, Rhi,” came a chuckle beside her. “That chair couldn’t have been very comfortable. I’m surprised you lasted that long.” He kept his voice light and calm and allowed his arm to relax as she relaxed as well. He scarcely dared to move for fear of giving her a reason to leave. “Just lie there and talk to me, Rhiannon,” he asked. “Tell me what’s on your mind. What are you thinking? Where are you going?”

Her silence stretched between them, creating a chasm that Nirnaeth knew he could not cross without her permission. He almost feared her lost to him when she rolled into him, and propping her head on her hand, looked him in eye. “I feel…. I feel like I should leave you,” she started uncertainly. Unaccustomed to actually sharing her thoughts with someone, putting them into words was strangely difficult. She swallowed nervously and let the next words tumble out. “You need rest and healing and every minute I’m with you, every moment I’m near… I feel as if I’m putting you in further danger.”

She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, summoning the courage to continue. To the casual observer the pair would appear to be lovers caught in a pose of longing, but the words would betray the darker thoughts that passed between them. “Nirnaeth,” she began and then stopped as her mind tried to rebuild the walls that were crumbling around her. The song in her heart, his song, was turning stone to sand and breeching the carefully constructed fortress that she had worked so hard to build. “I’m just so… afraid.” She admitted. “I don’t know WHAT to do.” Her hands fluttered between them like a pair of trapped birds, picking and fussing with the simple tunic that he wore.

Nirnaeth realised his words would be very important in deciding what happened next. His eyes held hers. “Rhiannon, stop,” he said firmly as he captured her hands and trapped them on his chest. “You don’t know if he is responsible for this. What if this has nothing at all to do with you? What if it is just a coincidence?” He sighed as she freed her hands and gingerly climbed over him. Though the bed was simple and narrow in design, it suddenly felt very empty. Carefully, he turned himself onto his back once more before sitting up. “Rhi, what is it?”

She retrieved the knife from where she had stashed it and turned back to the bed. As Nirnaeth sat up she crossed back and helped him adjust the pillows so that he was more comfortable. She laid the blade at his side while she fetched the salve to treat his wound. As she worked the balm into the skin carefully avoiding the scab and the stitching, she spoke quietly to him. “I have learned so much from you. You have given me so much,” she murmured.

He watched her eyes as they examined him. When she stopped speaking, her eyebrows came together in a frown of indecision. “Rhiannon,” he questioned softly. Her look flickered as he spoke her name and it seemed as if a weight lifted from her shoulders. She made her decision.

“I’ll show you what I know,” she looked to him in the bed and then to the chair with her eyes returning to his face. Picking up the blade once more, she crawled across him again, returning to his side. “And if you … can’t…. if you don’t…,” she shook her head. “I’ll understand.” She kept a distance between them, giving him space.

“You said that this blade was a copy, a replica, and you are correct. It is,” she spoke as her fingers traced the lines and symbols of it on its handle. “I am well acquainted with the original.” She handed the dagger to him handle first, careful not to let their fingers touch. “You know, of course, that Elves can have three names. One is given by their mother, one by their father, and the third can be given later in life by someone of respect. Firbir is his mother name. His father name is Draugfir, loosely translated into common as ‘dark wolf.’ If you look at the end of the hilt, you will see it. The Elven drawn dark wolf.” She turned her back to him and quickly undid the tie of her undertunic. Pulling the neckline loose, she dropped the material low on her the curve of her back. Nirnaeth’s silence was deafening to her. Though the sun was well up, the room felt dark to her.

“Look to my left shoulder,” she said quietly. As the calloused finger pulled the clothing further down and brushed her skin, she flinched and dropped her head. A sharp intake of breath was the only response. “I was practically the walking dead. It caused me no pain.” A tear slipped down her cheek and landed on her hand, surprising her. “Make no mistake, I fought him. With every ounce of my being I fought him….but when the metal burned into my flesh, I did not scream. I did not even whimper. I would not give him that.”

“You mentioned the blade’s balance,” she continued. “Turn the end… at what looks like a seam.” She heard the familiar scrape of metal being turned. “I was going to wait until I had left to open it, but now…” She heard the scroll slide out of the hilt into his hand. “Don’t read it. Please.” Still she did not turn to look at him, afraid of what she would see.

“What will you do now, my star-kissed captain,” she spoke with an edge of bitterness in her voice. “Will you let me go? I may yet save us both. Or are you going to read that scroll and bind your fate to my own?”

The question hung in the air between them. Despite their physical proximity, it suddenly felt as though they were worlds apart; this question now between them. Rhiannon had retreated into her world, would he follow her? And what would be the price if he did? Or if he didn't?

He saw the choices clearly now. If he read the scroll, what then? What dark paths might the knowledge take him on, and to what end? Even if all he wished for came true, they might have some two-score years together, before he grew old, died. He would have half a lifetime of happiness. But she would carry on, without him, immortal and undying. She would have to carry the memory of her sorrow through all the long years after his death. Could he do that to her? Would he want to? Did she know what she asked?

And what of his kinsmen? Didn't he have a responsibility to them too? They had rescued him from Firbir once, he could not ask them to do so again.

Or. He played out the choice in his mind. He could choose not to read the scroll, release Rhiannon from the doom he held her in. She would be hurt, but she was strong. She had all the time in the world. And she could deal with Firbir alone, he was sure of that. Perhaps better than if she had to worry about a mortal Captain at her side. He would regret it for the rest of his life, but compared to the unnumbered years that she would have to live without him if he bound himself to her, it would be a small price to pay.

All this passed through his mind in an instant, the sweet and the bitter. He well understood the bitter edge in her voice, for this question would lead to sorrow, no matter how he answered.

He touched her shoulder lightly and without words, she turned to him. Her face was an impassive mask of pale marble. She lifted her chin and raised her eyes to meet his. There was no expectation there. No hopeful light. She was a woman convicted by her heart, awaiting sentencing by her past.

His eyes met hers solemnly. "Do you know how often I've made this choice in my head?  I have answered this question in my mind a thousand times over, and a thousand times more." He shook his head. "I never thought the decision would ever truly present itself. I know well that you understand what you ask, for I see it in your eyes and hear it in your voice."

He gathered himself. He would have once chance to make this answer, he knew, and if he faltered, if he let her interrupt, or paused, his courage might fail him. He spoke, deciding his fate and ultimately hers.

"We have been living a dream, Rhiannon."

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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 1/31/2009 2:54 AM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 5)


Alone. The edges of her cloak snapped in the harsh, cold wind that whipped around her. Darkness engulfed her, enveloped her in its inky blanket as she stood on the ridge, looking down into the secluded valley below. The blackness of the night, the darkness that surrounded her, the shadow of the landscape that stretched before her, it all made Rhiannon feel that all she would have to do is take one step and she would be able to fly.

Instead, she sat on her heels, her hands resting between her splayed knees, as her fingers plucked at the long, stringy strands of the sparse grass. Even the stars seemed almost hostile in this environment. Shining down with bright eyes to scrutinize the world below them, they shone with the same dangerous light that glittered in Rhiannon’s.

If anyone from her kin, from her friends, from her family were to see her as she was, would they recognize her? She dressed as the night, an Elven shadow that melted into the trees and landscapes. She carried no instruments but her voice, no weapons save the daggers tucked into the boots that encased practically the entire length of her legs in soft, ebony leather.

Her hair, normally worn up in a regal arrangement of braids and loose curls, was tied behind her with a leather thong. Even her face was different. Its pale porcelain painted with primal patterns and ancient symbols, the wolf that matched the brand on her shoulder lurking amongst the swirls and motifs.

“What will you do now, my star-kissed captain,” she spoke with an edge of bitterness in her voice. “Will you let me go? I may yet save us both. Or are you going to read that scroll and bind your fate to my own?”

Her own words echoed in her ears as the clouds gathered to cover the spying moon and stars, keeping her hidden from their accusing sight. Cursed moonlight that used to bathe them in a pale glow, as if illuminating their very souls from within. Villainous starlight that sparkled in their hair and eyes, magicking her senses into believing that this all too human, all too mortal man was safe from the darkness that hunted her. A darkness that she had thought was long past.

She heard the wargs howling on the hillsides. Stalking their prey whether it be for need or for sport she knew nor cared not. For tonight it was she who tracked the darkness, she who had transformed from prey into huntress. She who had listened scarcely daring to breathe as she had awaited his reply.

"Do you know how often I've made this choice in my head? I have answered this question in my mind a thousand times over, and a thousand times more.”

She had feared his answer. Her heart trembled even now as she raged against the vicious circumstances that had forced this choice to be made. It was a choice that should have come naturally and gently. It should have come under starlight and moonlight with the music of trees and water playing an overture of hope. It should not have come through desperation and despair, with the acidic scent of his blood still hanging in the air.

"I never thought the decision would ever truly present itself. I know well that you understand what you ask, for I see it in your eyes and hear it in your voice."

Know? What did he know? She certainly had understood the ramifications of her question. Had he understood? Had he known how torn she had been between which answer she had wanted to hear from him? No matter which way he chose, he would be cast as the tragic hero. So, he had read a pretty book detailing the pain and mourning that stalked her life. Had he seen the blade that she had become, tempered like fine steel that sings as it is wielded? If he hadn't, he would not have been the first to underestimate the woman she had become and hopefully, not the last.

"We have been living a dream, Rhiannon."

A dream that had ended before it had scarcely begun. A dream that had dissolved, vanished in the harsh realities that lay before her. A dream coloured by the violent violets, purples, and greens of nightmares. Did she truly have the strength to take control of this torment and bring an end to it?

"We have been living a dream, Rhiannon."

His reply ran through her head, had done so throughout her jourrney. Words that had reshaped her and possibly altered her future beyond recognition. Through long days on horseback, and seemingly endless nights alone in the wilderness with nothing to occupy her but thoughts and memories, his words drummed an endless litany of regret into the rhythm of her soul.

"... living a dream, Rhiannon."


Her eyes caught the flicker of light in the densely packed forest. Standing slowly, she felt her muscles uncoil and lengthen along her limbs. The Rats Castle. A shady, rundown tavern on the lower slopes of Isendeep. A place where brigands and ruffians rubbed shoulders with the servants of Angmar hoping for a job and some coin. A place where the Angmarian went when they needed someone cheap and stupid to perform some task that they probably wouldn’t survive. It was a match made in heaven.

"....a dream....."


She stroked the face of her chestnut mount. Randir had been left in the safety of Elrond's stables to recover from the grueling tests of endurance through which he had recently suffered, but the gelding who had temporarily taken his place had proven reliable and sure footed. She led him down the mountainside and tied him alongside the few other mounts outside the roughly boarded building. The sounds of voices, primitive and gutteral mixed with common. All were harsh and discordant to her ear. Pulling her hood down a bit to further mask her face with shadow, she stepped soundlessly onto the small and rickety porch before moving through the doorway.

".....Rhiannon."


Her sudden appearance startled a few guests who looked at her curiously before returning their attention to their own business. Some, seeing the mark of the dark wolf, avoided looking directly at her, others narrowed their eyes maliciously. Most simply ignored her. She refused a mug of some thick looking sludge that came her way.

"Damn stuck up elves." The slurred words ended as quickly as they had begun as Rhiannon pierced the speaker with a malicious glare and moved her hand to the dagger, the messenger, that was tucked at her belt. The man's friend elbowed him quickly in the ribs and lowered his head respectfully to her.

"Please don't mind him," he whined ingratiatingly. "He's had too much to drink and doesn't mean any harm." He seemed to hold his breath as her eyes narrowed and then exhaled in relief as they slid away from him and she stalked off.

"Idiot," he admonished. "That's probably that bird that they've been going in about. The dark singer that..." the words trailed off as she moved farther away.

Her nose wrinkled at the smell of roasting meat, drink, smoke, and sweat. A far cry from Qanien who always reminded her of pine needles and cedar or Caddael with his aura of fresh grass. Her heart gave a painful twist as she remembered the salty masculinity of Nirnaeth. It reminded her of sea breezes, beaches, and the sweet smell of a campfire. The sharp pang of memory returned her to the task at hand.

With liquid grace, she slipped between the patrons, studying them as she passed by, looking and calculating alliances and allegiances, until she stood in front of the figure seated near one of the few thick-paned windows. The figure was cloaked as an Angmarian, head hooded, face concealed, but the long tapered fingers belied its ancestry. The voice was icy cold, betraying no sign of emotion. "Unless you have some news of or from him, I would expect you to leave my presence before your life leaves your body."

"Now, now, now," Rhiannon chuckled as she spun a chair around and sat on it backwards. "Is that any way to greet your long lost daughter, Vonavin? Or would you prefer I call you... Mother?"

Obviously startled, the woman jumped slightly, the cloth falling away to reveal the features of the elven woman who claimed right of kinship to Rhiannon through the rite of birth. Rhiannon dropped her own hood behind her and Vonavin gasped as her eyes took in the significance of the inked face of her daughter. "I did not think it was possible," she murmured with disbelief. "He said that he would possess you, but you are so much like your father, so much a fool, I didn't think it possible. Not possible." She shook her head in denial. "How did you find me?" The question was followed quickly by the next. "Did he send you?" Vonavin licked her lips nervously.

It was almost unsettling to see her mother in this way and for the briefest of moments she felt pity. Gone was the self-assured and proud woman, brittle and bright in her icy demeanor. The Vonavin who sat before her now seemed almost feral, desperate. "Send me," Rhiannon questioned with a delicately arched eyebrow punctuating her words. "Do I look like someone who gets 'sent' anywhere?" She lifted her chin and gazed at her mother levelly. "Not like some who get sent to dive for rings in the harbour of Celondim. Honestly, Mother. What happened to that unassailable pride that you used to have?" Rhiannon pulled her dagger from her boot and carefully trimmed her nails as she considered the woman across from her. She looked about casually, judging who may or may not have noticed the unsheathing of a weapon.

"How that must have irritated you. I'm sure you wished that ring, that token of bonding, to remain at the bottom of the harbour until the end of this world," Rhiannon's eyes flickered over Vonavin's face, her pale, seemingly bloodless lips, her face framed by the white gold of her hair, ice blue eyes which mirrored Rhiannon's own but lacked their warmth, humour, and humanity.

"Poor Vonavin, always being left behind," she tutted. "Though you tried hard enough to stop it, you lost Baelodar's attention and affection through your own shallowness and cruelty and now... " She paused a moment, then twisted the knife further. Centuries of listening to her mother's endless rages and torments had given Rhiannon easy access to what nerves to pinch, what insecurities to feed.

"Now...Firbir as well." She saw in Vonavin's reaction she had hit her mark and pressed her attack. "He certainly seems to have put quite some effort into claiming me. The kidnapping. The ring." She indicated the knife at her side. "And now this latest effort." The dark-haired elf allowed a sly smile to curl the corners of her mouth as she shrugged nonchalantly. "And you... reduced to waiting here, awaiting his commands. Your beauty served you well enough for a time, I suppose, but eventually they all tire of you."

"You insolent, ill-mannered, ungrateful... child," Vonavin hissed.

"Temper, temper, Mother," cautioned Rhiannon smugly. "Too long have I walked in your shadow. Father saw it. Firbir noticed it. You knew it. So, I would watch your words for when I take my rightful place beside him, it will be your fate that hangs in the balance."

"Foolish girl," Vonvin spat. "Do you really think he will allow you to walk next to him and share in what he desires? You are a weapon to be wielded, a song to be sung against Amarthiel, a torch to burn down the morale of the Elven people. You do not matter to him. You are nothing to him."

Vonavin narrowed her eyes and studied her daughter. "You have not met with him yet," she said with a ring of victory.

"You don't know that," Rhiannon said carelessly.

"I do, I do," muttered the woman across the table. "If you had, you'd carry his blade. You'd have the blade, the one that belongs to your own. The Eagle's Cry. The Nightingale's Song. Two blades in one. One destiny in two." Her eyes burned with the embers of madness. "You probably couldn't wield it, but you'd strap it to your back if you had to. You and your father. Holding on to things that don't matter. You and your memories. He and that damned human woman. Naming you for her. Even after I had disposed of her."

"You're mad," Rhiannon hissed from across the table. Beneath the ink, her face was growing more pale as she considered what the words meant.

"Mad? I'll tell you what is mad. You and he. Same in spirit, same in blood. Debasing yourselves with those of the blood of men. You should have died with him that morning, like I had intended," she muttered and spread her hands on the table, studying her fingers as if for stains.

An icy calm flooded through the life singer's veins. Intended. Rhiannon's eyes were captured by the glint of gold on Vonavin's restless fingers. Another ring that was familiar. A ring filled with remembrances. A ring filled with love. Baelodar's ring. The one he never removed. A gold signet ring that he had made for himself when they had returned from the Refuge. Depicting an eagle in full dive with a nightingale tucked between its wings, it was to celebrate their reunion and promised that they would never be parted again.

Rhiannon felt an unexpected pang of empathy for the broken woman. She had never considered how Vonavin may have felt on the other side. Watching the two of them, father and daughter, go out day after day or even for weeks on end and then return with tales of adventures, secret jokes, plans and aspirations all that did not include her. Had their private world filled with tokens of love and devotion, the ring, their blades, driven Vonavin to commit herself to the destruction of both of them? Instead of a daughter in whom she could share womanly secrets and harmless household intrigues, she was left alone.

Intended. Disposed of.
The words whispered through her mind muddying it with implications. She wore the ring. No. Vonavin had been the one to push her daughter away. The endless criticisms. The harsh judgements. It was by Vonavin's hand that the bond between them had broken and that with her father had been forged. The attack on the Refuge was suddenly not as random as it had first appeared. How far back did it go? How many unseen strings had been manipulated?

"What did he ever do to you," whispered Rhiannon as her eyes left the ring and met her mother's.

"Finally," Vonavin said coldly. "I swear I had quite despaired that you had inherited anything from me at all. I was hoping that my intellect would have overcome some of his brawn. Really, Rhiannon. Don't take it personally. 'Dark moons overpowering the bright sun. The line of Baelodar ended as scarcely begun.' Well, it doesn't mention him by name specifically, but the text indicates a silver hero and your father was so proud of that damn armour."

"It was Firbir who insisted that I bind myself to Baelodar and bear a child," she continued with a sigh. "The things I've done for him. So many were the times that I just wanted to dash your infant head to the floor, so many times I could have done away with you in some tragic accident without anyone suspecting. Each time, he stayed my hand." A cruel smile lit her face. "And so here you are. I'd tell you that you can thank him for your existence when you see him, but I'm sorry to inform you that you're not going to make that little rendezvous." She made a slight gesture with her hand and three men separated themselved from the crowd and began making their way towards them.

"I knew you would see me lurking in the note. I even allowed him to use my personal ink. Did you catch the scent of cinnamon as your unfurled it? After all the times you tried to clumsily mix it for me, I would think you would have caught it immediately." Her laughter rung painfully strained. "Though I did not expect to see you so soon," she muttered to herself with a frown. "No, you should have not been here at all."

"This will not please him," Rhiannon spoke quickly as her mind raced through possible escape routes. "You thwarting his plans."

"He'll come to thank me eventually," Vonavin practically purred as she splayed her hands on the tabletop as a cat might extend its claws. "And its not like he hasn't had some fun of his own." Vonavin's eyes glittered with amusement as Rhiannon puzzled over her remark.

"Oh, you really are slow aren't you, my dear Rhiannon. Did you really think that by leaving him you would protect him? Firbir isn't finished with that grey-haired hulk of a man you seem to have developed such an attachment for. Not by a long stretch. You always were a deluded little dreamer." Rhiannon tried to keep her face impassive, to block out the words aimed at her heart. "We both had scouts watching your movements, both knew when you slipped from the window in the middle of the night in a futile effort to save him. Firbir is probably with him as we speak, punishing him for the imagined transgression of daring to love you. No, it will serve us both well when I have you out of the way."

"He's become far too obsessed with you. He is forgetting the true goal. If I did not have you here before me, I might have worried that you had undergone some transformation, but you are still Rhiannon. Dark haired, slow witted, ungraceful... you are still your father's daughter... and when you, too, are dead, when the line of heroes is exterminated, I shall be rewarded. I shall tell him so myself at the tryst he so carefully arranged for you." She beckoned, and the three men drew their swords.

"How tragic. He's waited so long and so eagerly, to have you meet such an untimely death, but have no worries. I shall bring him comfort as I always do and he will learn my true worth."

"Or perhaps he'll learn how truly worthless you really are.... Mother." Her words were clipped and harsh, but her movement was smooth and swift as she impaled the ring bearing hand to the table top. The tavern seemed to go still and silent as it held its collective breath. The men moved more quickly at the suddenness of the strike and Rhiannon quickly divested the woman of the gold band before yanking her blade out once more. Vonavin's eyes were wide and wild as she clutched at the table top and then slowly began to sink to the floor.

"You see, Mother," Rhiannon spoke quickly as she moved around the table. "You are not the only one who learned treachery and poison by his hand. I did not desire this knowledge that he imparted to me. It sickens me to have to use it, but the two of you have left me no choice." She picked up a chair and swung it as the first man approached. "The paralysis will only be temporary," she said matter of factly. "Just a day or so... well, a week at most. By the time you can move again, it will be far too late. He will know of your betrayal."

Rhiannon swung the chair again, this time aiming and hitting the nearby window. With the sound of glass and violence, the whole tavern seemed to erupt in chaos, slowing her oncoming attackers momentarily. Lightly, the dark haired elf leapt onto the window sill and paused to look back once more at the now immobile form of Vonavin. "I trust that our paths will not cross again, Vonavin. For if you do not die by his hand, you would most certainly die by mine."

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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 1/31/2009 2:56 AM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 6)


Meanwhile... back at the Silver Blades Kinhall.....

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Nirnaeth slept uneasily. Truth be told, he hadn't slept easily since the day she had left. The day he had made his choice, a choice that still haunted him now. Had he made the right decision? Her question and his answer had run through his mind in every moment since she had departed; a staccato beat of words and phrases skittering and discordant on the jangled nerves of his mind.

"We have been living a dream, Rhiannon."

Physically, he was healing well, the cut at his side now a shortening scab, the pain diminishing each day. Mentally though, he wasn't sure if he'd ever be the same again.

“…a dream, Rhiannon"

He turned, still fighting to return to the untroubled darkness of sleep.

“…a dream”

He felt a cup against his lips, the smell of broth rising up into his nose. "That would be Arn again", he thought, "always getting me to eat." More out of a desire to be rid of his manservant quickly, Nirnaeth started to drink the proffered cup.

"That's right, nice and steady" said the bearer, as Nirnaeth continued to drink. At the sound of the voice, Nirnaeth's eyes snapped open, all sleep dispelled. With a violent and sudden movement, he knocked the cup aside, spat out what was in his mouth as best he could. The voice of the bearer was not Arn's.

"Mae govannen, Nirnaeth. Though your manners could use some improvement, it seems, but that is to be expected given your crude heritage." An elf attired in rich, green cloth stood over him, malice glittering in his eyes. Firbir.

"Oh, it’s far too late for that" he said with a chuckle as he watched Nirnaeth's attempts to scrape what was left of the broth from his tongue. Understanding and horror dawned on the stricken man's face. Nirnaeth leapt out of bed, aiming a punch at the elf standing over him. Firbir simply took a step back and watched with amusement as Nirnaeth collapsed to the floor, unmoving.

“And still you forget your manners, Nirnaeth.” He shook his head, his voice mocking. “Well, for my part, it really is a pleasure to see you again" Firbir’s eye’s narrowed. "Only this meeting will bring me the gratification that our last did not." The last words came out as snarl. "Did you truly think I'd forget what you did in the cave? Not to mention your presumption in thinking that you would be allowed to love her. As I'm sure you've realised by now, she is mine."

Firbir nudged the captain sharply in the ribs, satisfied with the grunt that was emitted without movement to stop or avoid it. "I took the liberty of adding a few extra ingredients to the broth your man, Arneodiad, provided. The paralysis will only be temporary, just a day or so.... well, a week at most."

He stooped and shifted the prone form of Nirnaeth to a sitting position. "I want you to be able to see me when I talk to you," he said. "To see the truth in my eyes as I tell you the things I want you to hear.” He bent lower, closer. “And then I want to see that truth reflected in your eyes." The dark haired elf stood and looked down upon his captive audience. "Oh, if only she could see you now...."

“I would have preferred the sport of having you mobile. It's so much more fun that way." He shrugged ruefully. "But time is short, unfortunately. I do so enjoy manipulating your destruction, but I do have other, perhaps more important, things to do. My employer indulges me these...diversions, but only to a point and only to his benefit. Much as I'd like to, breaking you here and now would most certainly bring your kinsmen down, and as much as I'd love to punish them for their part in all this, I really don't have the time."

He smiled then, a thin, cruel smile that promised nothing but further pain and torment. Nirnaeth could only look up at him, his body ignoring his brain’s frantic commands to stand, to speak, to yell.

Firbir stalked in front of the now sitting form of Nirnaeth. "Your herald is far too trusting, you know. I simply stated I was sent by Rhiannon and I was let straight into your room. How very convenient for me. Given the recent series of events, I would have expected you to be a little more cautious." He shrugged. "If your man recovers, no doubt he'll be more cautious in future. You should thank me, you know."

"But let us get down to the matter at hand." Firbir looked as if he was about to crouch in front of Nirnaeth to better look him in the eye, but memory made him reconsider. Instead, the intruder sat in the chair opposite Nirnaeth, the same chair that Rhiannon had kept watch in when he had first been injured. Cold, black eyes bored into those of the stricken man. Nirnaeth returned the gaze evenly, the heat of his rage flickering in their depths.

"So, tell me. Which was it...Man?" He spat the last word, hatred naked on his face. "Did you send her away or did she sneak out like a coward in the night?" He stroked his chin with long tapered fingers as he considered. "Oh, what a pretty picture that must have been. Did she reveal all to you? Did she show you that mark that I so lovingly placed on her?" The elf rose suddenly and closed the distance between them, their faces just inches a part. "You should have seen her that day. It was the first time I had seen anything like life in her. Until that day, she was as limp, as passionless, as boring as a pale shadow on the water. Until that day, I would never have believed that she was the daughter of Baelodar. You would have been proud of how strongly she fought me. And when her flesh sizzled and bubbled under my mark, she never made a sound. Not a whimper."

"I should have made her completely mine that day," he murmured as he stroked Nirnaeth's cheek mockingly. "But I had caught a glimpse of the fire that lay under the icy surface and had thought that I could stoke it, intensify it. I could forge her into the perfect companion. Baelodar's Daughter, the Nightingale. Singing the dark songs." He slapped the cheek suddenly. "And you thought yourself worthy of her?" Slipping back into the chair, her chair, he propped his feet on Nirnaeth as if he were nothing but a piece of common furniture.

"I suppose I should thank you," the cruel lips intoned. "For if she had not been at the Alliance signing, I would not have known where she was or even that she lived. Once she threw my ring... once she sang...." He stopped as if remembering. "No. I don't suppose she told you. If she had, your noble nature would have left you no choice but to shelter and protect her or die trying.... and that she would not have."

Firbir's lips curled up into a humourless smile. "It was all so easy, so predictable. I attack you. She feels there is no other way to protect you, but to leave you. She knows that if she leaves without a word, you'll follow. So, she gives you just enough information to let you make it your choice. Torn between wanting you to see past her charade and choose her over all else, and keeping you safe. And choose you did." His eyes glittered and he almost clapped. "You see now, don't you? Everything that the two of you have done was to MY design. I've forced you apart, and now she is alone." He laughed softly. "I made you break her heart. You. Broke. Her."

He stood. "And now, pitiful man, she will be mine. You see, I know exactly where she will go and what she will do. She's a good little puppet, don't you think? I'll be there waiting for her when she does. And when I have her?" His smile grew wide as he considered the plans he had in store for her. "This is what I'm going to do to her when I get her...to make her pay...for you." Nirnaeth screamed in silent horror as Firbir whispered into his ear the dark desires of which Rhiannon had only hinted.

"And now I shall take my leave," Firbir said, as if paying tribute to a polite host, and gave a slight bow. "As a thank you for playing your role so perfectly to my requirements, I will allow you to live. The torment of you laying here, unable to move, while Rhiannon steps into my trap is reward enough... you will spend the rest of your pitiful and short life knowing that your betrayal gave her to me." He laughed. “By the time you can move again, it will be far too late." He planted his foot directly onto Nirnaeth's healing wound as he stepped onto and over him. "Take this as a lesson not to meddle in the lives of elves. Goodbye, Nirnaeth. I trust I will not see your crude visage again." He looked down at him, studying him critically as his fingers lightly touched the scar on his own face. "She really did love you, you know. Ugly as you are." A dark laughter, the rustle of robes, and then he was through the door and gone.

Nirnaeth could only stare, unmoving, as the door swung shut.

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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 3/6/2009 12:45 PM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 7)


She teetered for a moment on the edge, making sure that her stalkers noted her exit, watching as all three continued in their pursuit before jumping the distance to the ground. A short sprint to where the horses waited nervously, spooked by the shattering of glass and the mayhem from within, and she was in motion and put into flight. The chestnut began moving as soon as he was released and Rhiannon mounted at a run as her mother's men cleared the building. The most imposing of the group shouted instructions as all three climbed aboard horses and gave chase through the moonless night.

She slipped Baelodar's ring from her tight grasp and onto her hand as horse and rider left the more easily traversed paths and worn tracks that served as roads and headed for the thicker, heavier forests that covered most of the immediate terrain. Rhiannon felt unexpectedly light, almost giddy. She had expected so many emotions: fear, anxiety, trepidation. Instead she was liberated by the chaos. She now understood the allure of evil. She savoured it in her mind, testing its worth, enjoying its heady sense of freedom until an arrow hummed a little too closely to her head and reminded her of the mission at hand.

Vonavin had been neutralized and now all that remained was for her to eliminate those who followed her to keep the news localized. Then it was off to confront Firbir and put the past to rest and make way for the future. She used the forest to her advantage, keeping the other riders at a distance yet keeping herself within sight of them so that they did not lose hope of capturing their prey. The forest was silent except for the thunder of hooves, snapping of branches, and the gutteral voices of those behind her. She bent low over her horse's neck, mane and hair blending together in the darkness.

She shifted her weight forward in the saddle, rising slightly as the chestnut gathered itself to jump the moss encrusted trunk of a fallen tree. The horse's ears swiveled as it caught the new sound, a sound and a silence that Rhiannon's ears questioned simultaneously. A nervous wicker punctuated the chaotic percussion. Rhi sang softly and encouragingly as her blood ran cold and the intoxicating giddiness was replaced by the first tendrils of fear.

The wargs had stopped howling.

She was aware of the sound of shadows following and moving abreast of her and her mount. Keeping pace yet not moving closer, it was as if they were waiting for something or someone to give a signal. As she broke from the trees and into the openness of a large meadow, they materialized around her. She pulled back hard on the reins, both stopping her flight and spinning the gelding in a circle to re-evaluate her circumstances. She hummed quietly, trying to soothe the frightened animal she sat astride, feeling his panic and fear building at the smell and sight of the pack. She counted quickly as she spun and when the three riders broke from the trees, urged her mount on once more, dashing through a slight space between the hulking, menacing forms.

The shrillness of a whistled signal ordered the wargs forward again and they loped easily after the elven rider. While her gelding excelled at navigation and nimbleness, he was at a disadvantage when it came to endurance. The added stress of the wargs was sapping him quickly and the three riders were quickly closing in on her. Wordlessly, she urged him forward trying to make it to the trees before they were upon her again.

It was not to be.

The first pulled abreast to her and scowled menacingly. The warg whistle in his hand, he shouted above the noise, "I'm going to enjoy this. Feeding time!" He placed the whistle between his lips and blew a coded signal to the following pack. Keeping even with her, the Angmarian relaxed and waited for the wargs to do their work.

Rhiannon could hear them, feel them drawing in, smell their rancid stench as it assailed her senses. They still ran with her, toying with her and her mount as if trying to spook it into throwing her to the ground. One snapped at her leg and was rewarded with a well placed kick to the snout, throwing it off its stride momentarily before it returned with a fierce growl and another snap from its powerful jaws. She couldn't risk a scratch or bite from their carrion ridden bodies. The infection would spell certain doom for her journey if not for her life.

Kicking her booted feet free of of the stirrups, she pulled her legs up under her, practically kneeling in the saddle and relying on her elven balance to keep her in place as she hoped the ground was as smooth as it looked. The hot breath of the wargs billowed in the air as they prepared themselves. Rhiannon's fingers wound themselves into the chestnut's mane as she shifted her balance yet again. The man who rode next to her watched with amusement and expectation. His war stallion, the colour of a moonless midnight moved with ground eating strides, throwing clumps of dirt behind him.

She could sense the strike before it came. Whispering an apology to her faithful steed, she slipped her fingers into the top of her boot and removed her dagger. As the teeth of the first warg clamped onto the hind leg of the gelding, Rhiannon leapt. The chestnut gave a scream as the warg's powerful jaws bit down, snapping bone and tearing sinew and tendon. The horse was pulled to earth and soon grew silent as a few of the pack finished the job the leader had started.

The dark horse barely seemed to register that the elf had landed behind its rider as it continued its canter. With a grunt of annoyance, the warg keeper blew his whistle again and some of the pack, including the brindled leader left the equine corpse and began to once more follow. Rhiannon glanced back. "Four of six," she tallied as she avoided a well-placed elbow. Before the man had time to do much more than twist in the saddle, she had grabbed his hair and with a fierce yank jerked his head back. With a swift, smooth movement she slashed him cleanly from ear to ear, a gaping grin flowing with blood.

"Yes, you look much better with a smile," she muttered to the corpse to be as it gurgled from its perch. With a careful shove, the man fell beneath the hooves of the galloping horse and she dropped into the saddle. Bending low, she managed to grasp the braided leather reins before they became entangled in the legs of her new mount.

Crooning a brief tune as she resheathed her dagger, she tested the reins, pleased at the response. Though she regretted the demise of her chestnut gelding, she was quickly growing to appreciate the stallion that she now rode. Turning her head, she took note that two of the wargs were playing a gruesome game of tug of war with their former master, and the remaining two still loped behind her, but less in pursuit and more in curiosity as if they were unsure of what was expected.

She slowed her mount slightly, taking a quick inventory. She still possessed her two daggers, plus the cheap copy of Firbir'. Checking the livery of the horse she now rode, she grew hopeful when she discovered a short sword bound to the saddle and a simple bag wound around the pommel which contained what appeared to be a spare, tin whistle. With words of courage and strength sailing from her lips, she pulled the stallion up short and wheeled him around to face the oncoming riders.

Hooves pawed the air as Rhiannon dug her heels firmly into the sides of the horse. He moved forward confidently, almost eagerly, head held high and ears pricked forward. With a quick jerk, she unsheathed the sword from its protective leather and wound the reins around her free hand, leaving them fairly slack and guiding her mount with silent pressures from her knees and legs. The wargs turned with her and the large brindle bayed, a sound that ran icy fingers up her spine. The rest of the pack reappeared and kept pace, the taste of blood making them hunger for more. Their nearness was unsettling, but surpisingly not threatening. With no time to give it further consideration, Rhi returned her attention to the two adversaries.

They closed the last remaining strides between them with weapons drawn and at the ready. When finally they engaged, Rhiannon positioned herself carefully, keeping her opponent between her and the third rider at all times. With heel , knee, and leg, she communicated her instructions to her steed as her arm parried and countered the incoming strikes. The three riders whirled an intricate and deadly dance, weaving and bending, twisting and turning while the wargs circled in an ever diminishing radius.

Occasionally one would snap at a rider or horse, reminding them of the constant threat, but when one attempted a swipe at Rhiannon, the brindle punished it with violent immediacy. The ebony stallion now in close quarters with the others did what came naturally and laying its ears flat against its head, warned off the other horses with a sharp nip to the flank or withers, occasionally catching a rider's leg or thigh. The odds had altered dramatically and Rhi's blade began to find its mark more often as the two assailants were caught fighting a battle on multiple fronts.

Having gained confidence in the obedience of her mount, she hooked the reins on the pommel of the saddle and pulled one of her smaller blades, keeping her hand low and partially hidden in the shadows. Metal clashed and rang in the clearing as the combatants battled without words, each trying to gain an advantage, an upper hand. An occasional spark would fly from the striking of the tempered blades giving the battle an almost magical aura. Drawing her blade back, she pressed aggressively foward, feinting quickly to draw her opponent's blade to such a position whereby she could capture it in a croise and push it high overhead. With a lightning strike, her dagger hand crossed over and hit home, sliding between ribs, puncturing a lung before piercing the heart.

The heavy blade hit the ground with a muffled thud moments before the body followed to be set upon by the waiting canines. Rhiannon whirled her horse to fend off what she knew must be a new attacker only to find that there was none. The brindled warg pack leader looked towards the forest and following his gaze, she could catch a glimpse of a retreating shadow. Resheathing dagger and sword, she urged her mount to give chase..

Chase, he did. With powerful legs that devoured the distance between hunter and hunted, the dark horse's power thrilled Rhiannon. She rose in the saddle, hovering over the thick neck of the stallion, her hands holding the reins loosely, arms pumping as she encouraged him onwards into the darkness of the forest. They travelled boldly. She ducked her head when needed to avoid thick branches and limbs, but the smaller ones still whipped her face and shoulders, snapped at her hands. The wargs were following, though they were being outdistanced. They tracked the riders efficiently, steadily and given their persistent nature, Rhi knew that the pack would not be left behind forever.

The forest was thinning. The evergreens providing less shelter, more space. It made things easier. Easier for her, anyway. Clicking her tongue and giving her mount his head, she turned him loose and felt his muscles coil and spring away beneath her. Though the horse before them was obviously feeling the fatigue of flight, her black monster seemed to be thriving on the pursuit. The soft pine needles of the forest floor gave way to loose rock and shale as they rode upwards and further into the mountains.

The way became more dangerous with the horses occasionally slipping and jolting unexpectedly. A few times, Rhiannon felt her body prepare to be hurled to the ground, or even worse off the side of the rocky ridge that they were now skirting, but each time her steed shifted his weight beneath her, assisting in keeping her mounted. The steep incline rose beneath them, ending in a practically sheer drop into an equally rocky canyon. The iron shod hooves of the horses rang and clattered on the unforgiving surface, throwing sparks and sharp stones in their wake.

The ground flattened for a few hundred yards and she pushed him harder until they were riding nearly abreast. The rider was riding low and desperately, savaging his mount with spur and whip in an attempt to escape the darkness that kept pace beside him. In future years, Rhiannon would remember little of the man himself, what he looked like or any distinguishing features. What she would remember and feel remorse for would be the horse. A blood bay with decent breeding, his eyes white and wide with fear, white foam of sweat coating his neck and withers, ears pinned back, nostrils wide as they sucked air into his heaving and gasping lungs.

She would remember the weight of him as with the slightest of pressures from her outer leg, her black fury veered sharply, and with Rhi bracing herself from her perch, slammed into the futile fugitives. They stumbled, the bay fighting to remain standing, to remain moving forward and away from the pinnacle of the stone spine that they raced along. Another nudge and the black struck again, the opposing rider grasping at Rhi now, trying to get a handhold somewhere, anywhere. She struck him with the sharpness of an elbow and the bluntness of a gloved fist as without being told, the dark horse pushed again.

Time stopped for the briefest of moments as first one hind hoof slipped over the edge and then the other. The backend of the horse tilted downwards wildly, almost tossing the rider down alone. He scrambled in the saddle as if trying to climb up the horse to solid ground. Rhi turned her mount in a tight circle to bear witness to the events that she would someday examine in more detail. She would wonder at her impassive stare as she watched the pair slip in slow motion out of view. She would hear the drawn out whinney of fear as the horse fell from sight. She would carefully remember how she had brought her own mount to the edge of the death fall and with passionless eyes watched the pair tumble down the cliff. The bay rolling and screaming. The man must have screamed as well as well, but she would not remember. Her mind would recall the sounds of flesh hitting stone with a deadened thud. She would remember the angles of the horse's legs as they were splintered and shattered in the decent. She would recall the way the mass rolled and fell, trapping the man beneath it, dragging him along the knife-sharp terrain, leaving bold, dark strokes of blood and tissue in testament to the tragic demise of what was a fine and faithful steed.

When all was still again, she and the shadow she rode remained motionless eventhough she could hear the wargs approach. The pack drew near and seemed to carefully look over the edge. Perhaps they understood on some level what had taken place. Perhaps they were sensitive to the almost lightning charge of victory that emminated from the remaining horse and rider. The brindle leader raised his head and howled. It was not a mournful howl, it was a howl of domination and determination and strangely enough... submission. The pack joined in and the sound would be one that would haunt her for far longer than the memory of what happened that night.

With a gentle tug on the reins, Rhi headed away from the ravine and the gruesome sight that lay at its bottom. The pack moved with her in silence, looking to her and to the leader who trotted next to her. Almost as an afterthought, she halted their progress and with steady fingers removed the small bag that was tied to the saddle. She untied it and removed the whistle from its place of safety. The wargs looked up curiously, The wargs looked up curiously, their acceptance-filled eyes tinged with resentment. Holding it out to them so that they could see what she held, she spoke no words but hummed a soothing and encouraging tune. Turning so that she faced the deadly drop, she cocked her arm back and threw the whistle over the precipice. She didn't even wait for the tinny ting of it hitting bottom, but set her mount in motion once more.

The clouds were beginning to clear, creating a patchwork of stars scattered across the darkness. The world was almost peaceful as she allowed her onyx steed to take a leisurely pace towards what was her next destination. Eventually, they would stop and rest beneath the canopy of the thick forest of pines, hidden from sight. When they did, Rhiannon would allow herself the luxury of sleep as her new mount and companion stood nearby, the velvet of his muzzle occasionally venturing close to her hair, blowing his warm, grass scented breath through flared nostrils against her and then inhaling the scent of his new rider. The two rested peacefully, confident in the watchful eyes and ears of the six wargs, one larger than the rest and brindle of colour, that slept lightly in a protective circle around them. Hidden from the unsleeping stars, they gathered their strength for the oncoming days.

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Sauronsbeagle (Member) 3/6/2009 12:47 PM EST : RE: A Shadow Stirs
Sauronsbeagle
Posts: 4624

A Shadow Stirs (Part 8)


The man looked up at Nirnaeth, pain and fear and sorrow etched across his brow. “I…I don’t want to die.” He wheezing voice trembled. “Please…” He reached with one hand towards the mounted captain.

Nirnaeth had come across the man, propped up against the trunk of one of the tall pine trees lining the side of the road. A trail of blood led away from the needle strewn floor beneath the trees and up the road, away from him. The man’s leather bodkin was ripped and torn, his exposed arms both covered in blood. The shaft of an arrow was lodged in the man’s chest, and his laboured, shallow breathing pointed to a collapsed lung and internal bleeding.

“What happened?” Nirnaeth’s forced his voice to be flat, unmoving.

“We…we attacked a dwarf convoy” The man’s word came in shallow gasps. “The boss said it would be lightly guarded…..that we’d be rich.” He laughed then, a bitter sound that soon dissolved into a wet, hacking cough. It took some time for the man to recover, before he spoke again. “We were wrong. We were driven off….split up.”

“Bandits” Nirnaeth whispered under his breath. He scowled at the man. “You fool”

“We…we were desperate.” Nirnaeth forced himself to meet the man’s gaze once more as he continued to speak, pausing every few words to try and recover his breath. “I…I never killed anyone before. I didn’t know…how it feels…to take a life. It was horrible. I ran...but it was … it was too late. They got me. He reached weakly towards Nirnaeth. “I know I deserve it…but I don’t want to die. Help me”

Nirnaeth hesitated. Two days hence, the first signs of a trail had appeared as the increasingly less-travelled road began to yield its secrets, the memories of the journeys it held showing in hoof prints and footmarks. He was closing in, but the leaden sky ahead threatened snow, and even a light covering could be disastrous to his pursuit. To delay now could ruin everything.

He looked at the man once more. The bandit, his mind silently corrected. There was nothing he could do for him. He would die within hours as his lungs filled up with blood. There was no decision to make here, he realised. He had known that since he saw the man. He shook his head gently. “I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do to help you.” The man’s hand fell limply to his side, the flicker of hope in his eyes extinguished. He spurred his horse gently past the man.

And then dismounted, tying the reins loosely to the low bough of the tree he had ridden up to. Inwardly cursing himself for the actions he had known he would take, he turned back to the man. “But I will stay with you, until the end. No man should die out here alone.” He unstrapped his sword, set it down beside his mount, and then settled down beside the man. “What is your name?” he said gently.

Nirnaeth sat with the man, listening as he told him in wet and wheezing gasps about his life, his loves and losses, and his triumphs and regrets, listening to the tale of the man’s life for as long as the man could speak. It was a sad tale, one of wrong choices and missed opportunities, of paths not taken and dreams unfulfilled. Part of his mind cursed himself for a fool, raging against the folly of placing this man before her, before all his hopes and dreams. But the rest of him, the better part he thought, knew the truth of matters. He was what he was. And to deny that would be to destroy that which he was, that which he hoped she loved.

When the man could no longer speak, his breathing reduced to a barely audible gurgle, Nirnaeth began to speak. He told him of how he had first met Rhiannon, how their eyes had met across the Unfinished Tales kin-hall on that summer day. He told him about the time he had seen her running around the dwarf city in a mask, of her initial embarrassment and their shared delight in the meeting. He told him of the time he had subsequently given her a mask of glass as a gift in front of her startled kinsmen, and of her stunned reaction and his embarrassed flight.

The first flakes of snow began to fall as he spoke about the game of tag, and the starlight evenings they had spent together. With each soft, swirling flake, he felt the steady entinguishing of his hopes, but he did not, could not stop. By the time he had finished speaking of the events that had brought him to this place, to this day, the snow lay thickly around him. And, as if on cue, the man’s breathing finally stopped.

Nirnaeth unclasped his hand from the dead man. “Goodbye Matthew,” he whispered. He stood, and turned towards his horse, tears streaming down his face as he faced the prospect of continuing his pursuit in the snow. It would be impossible, he knew, but he would try nonetheless. He looked up to reach for the reins. And froze. He was not alone.

Three, no four, men stood in the trees around him. One of them, the leader, judging by the quality of his armour, stood holding the reins of his horse. All four men were armed, and bore the marks of a recent engagement. “The rest of the bandits” he realised silently.

“Stay a moment” the leader said. Nirnaeth’s eyes shifted towards his sword, the sword that he had left like a fool lying on the ground a few feet away. The leader shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. The four of us are all that’s left, and after the day we’ve had, I wouldn’t cross swords with us.” He raised an arm as Nirnaeth tensed. “Relax. If we had wanted you dead, you’d be long gone." He paused a moment, then continued. "We’ve been here for quite some time.” He smiled grimly. “Not that you noticed, you were so wrapped up in your story.”

“Why did you stay?” Another man spoke this time, from the trees to his left. “You didn’t know Matthew, and from your tale, you’ve better places to be.” Nirnaeth shifted to look at the source of the voice, a tall, gangling man with a bow on his back, a ragged mop of brown hair pushed back behind his ears. He shrugged. “I couldn’t leave him.” This simple truth was all Nirnaeth could offer in reply.

“Well, lucky for you that you didn’t.” The leader spoke again. “Tell me, this elf you seek, did you speak truly?”

Nirnaeth stared for a moment, his mind still whirling at the turn of events. He spoke slowly in reply, hesitating to give voice and perhaps reality to that which he knew in his heart, but did not want to admit. "Yes." He paused, then continued. "But...I do not think I will be able to find him in this snow.”

The leader looked at him, considering his words. After a time, he spoke slowly, “He’s a nasty piece of work alright. And dangerous.” He studied Nirnaeth a moment longer. “But I think you already know all that, so I’ll tell you something you don’t know. He’s heading for the Stone Circle. He’s been in and out of these woods a lot the past few months, always back to that circle. Preparing it, I think. Though for what, I don’t know.”

Nirnaeth stared at the man, hope flaring within him once more, and then warring with suspicion inside him. “How?” he struggled to speak. “Why?”

The leader smiled. “Well, it seems to me we owe you for seeing right by Matthew. We outlaws do have some sense of honour, you know.” His smile faded at that last sentence, replaced by a look of loss and regret. He shrugged, then shook off the emotion.

“You better get going if you’re going to catch him. It will be tight, but he’s not in much of a hurry, so you’ve still a chance. Head East up the road a little longer, then bear left to climb the ridge once you’ve crossed a stone bridge. From the ridge, you’ll see two spurs of a distant mountain forming a u-shaped valley. The Stone Circle lies at it’s heart.”

He repeated the directions once more. “You got that?”

"Yes" Nirnaeth replied, the directions already forming a litany in his mind.

“Then you’d best be off then. Don’t worry, we’ll see that Matthew here gets a proper burial. Now go!”

Nirnaeth didn’t wait to be offered this chance again. He mounted his horse quickly, his mind already moving forward, tracing the route, calculating the time that remained. “Thank you.” he said quietly to the leader as the familiar weight of his sword was thrust into his hands. Nirnaeth quickly sheathed it in its well worn scabbard before turning to look at the others. He spoke more loudly, his voice clear in the still, silent air. “Thank you, all.”

Some of them raised a hand in farewell or offered a few words of luck as he turned away, and spurred his horse back onto the road. Hope sang in his heart as he leant in close to his mount, a renewed resolve and determination coursing through his veins.The chase was resumed, the goal once more in sight. Snowflakes whirled and danced around the rushing rider and steadfast steed as they plunged through the snow-filled and darkening wilderness. "We’re going to make it,” he murmured, as horse and rider settled into an easy, distance covering gallop. “We’re going to make it.”

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