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The Eastern Clans

chrysophalax

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A squawk from above drew Fingil's attention as he watched the dwarf's irritation and discomfort grow. The bright, beady were watching every thing with an intelligence that was almost frightening. However, it's main focus seemed to be fixed on the mugs of ale and the cask which had been brought up for the dwarf. "Seems your raven wants a drink, good sir!" he called as he got up from his seat and went to the far end of the bar. He poured out a measure of the thickly foaming stuff into a bowl that would normally hols some of the occasionally edible stew that was served here, then called up to the bird. "Master raven! I know you can understand me. This one's on me."

Fingil had always had a fondness for animals, preferring their company to that of humans. They were loyal and dependable, not treacherous or cruel as he had found most to be, even his family...

Dark thoughts threatened to engulf him again and he shook his head, forcing himself back to the present and to a challenge! He then did something that his few friends knew to be a warning sign. He smiled. "A battle of wits with you? Seems a shame really, since your weapon appears to be rusty from ill-use." A dry chuckle came from a few in the room. The other dwarves merely watched, some scowling, while others seemed to be making wagers under the table, which gave Fingil a sudden flash of inspiration.

"Shall we have a wager, then? If you win and if your commander will have me, I will gladly lend you my guidance and my sword to your service. Should I be the victor, all I ask is a few moments of your time to ask a favour." The dwarf looked to his leader, who shrugged and he stuck out his calloused hand. "Done, now get on with it!" Fingil tried not to grimace as his fingers were nearly crushed in the dwarf's grip. "I'll be needing that hand again, no-legs!" he said as he stepped out into the room, trying to put together a song. Impromptu songs had never been his strength and he had always avoided such contests when he and other rangers had been drinking round the fire of an evening. He much preferred watching others make fools of themselves. Now who's the fool? he asked himself as he cleared his throat. A couple of men in the corner began to beat their empty tankards in a rhythm on their table and now there was no going back.

"His voice as clear as crystal,
His chest, a carven shelf.
What here just before me,
Must surely be an Elf!

Or do my eyes deceive me?
Help me, those who can!
What I took to be of Elven-kind
Could never be a man.

Such beauty cannot hide itself.
Nay, it must be displayed!
Ai, lads! Of course! This lovely
Is but a Dwarven-maid!"

Fingil finished with a bow and a flourish, then stood with his arms folded to see what transpired.
 

YayGollum

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The raven uttered a small squawk of surprise then ordered his translator to watch out for Fingil, who didn't seem to miss much, but also to thank him for his gesture. The drink was almost immediately downed by the short guy, who knew that birds shouldn't be drinking such things. After wiping his mouth and shrugging at the taste, he nodded and looked at Fingil with grudging appreciation. He had met very few who cared to contemplate that some animals could be smarter than they appear. Was this human just another depressed and friendly drunk, or was he smarter than he appeared, too?

Can't be that great, the guy thought, shaking his head at the earlier parts of the song. Once the punch line was delivered, though, a brief but loud explosion of laughter was released. This guy hated elves and only saw it as a joke on them. "Ha! The raven Shadowflaps thanks you, for the drink. Truor Tupnm thanks you for the laugh. Don't be surprised if you're beaten, though. He's got better beats to back him up." He extended an arm in gratitude as he ignored the bird, who was complaining about his missing drink, which he had planned on at least taking a sip of, just to be polite.
 

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Kiril absorbed the man's words with his arms folded across his chest, his thoughts veiled by a detached, smirking expression. In truth, he did not hear a single word of the ranger's tune, for his mind was already racing to assemble the words for what he intended to be a crushing counterblow. He wasn't the type to humor an adversary for longer than was necessary by reserving his sharpest barbs for later rounds. The dwarf chuckled quietly as a few especially nasty couplets came to his mind.

Fingil finished his verse with some remark or other about Kiril being a female, and completed a crisp bow to the hearty cheers of much of the tavern. Kiril glanced about the room at the applauding masses. He shook his head a bit, and bellowed to silence them.

"Ahhh! You poor folks! So in want of entertainment that this pretender here strikes you as amusing!"

The dwarf gave Fingil a grin that appeared both good-natured and competitive. He felt compelled to respect the man for not backing down from his challenge. Yet at the same time, he could not allow such feelings to temper his acidic verse.

"Yet I'm sure that pitiful little rhyme of yours was a great strain for you to compose! You could use a drink to replenish your strength, I'd say!"

Kiril grabbed a mug from the bar and filled it up from the keg, and with a smooth flick of the wrist sent the drinking vessel sliding down the bar top toward the ranger. The gesture was not so much an act of generosity or even an insult as it was a stalling tactic to help Kiril put the finishing touches on the rhymes that were beginning to interlock within his head. The black-bearded dwarf set to pacing now in agitated excitement, though his eyes never left Fingil. He resembled a warg sizing up its prey.

Meanwhile, Malkin and Halak had receded into the ring of onlookers that surrounded their comrade and the ranger. They took Brian along, though the youth wanted to be as close to the action as possible. Listening carefully to Fingil's song, both felt that it received more support from the audience than it deserved.

Halak chuckled. "Just wait 'til they hear what Kiril delivers!" He glanced over to Malkin, who was scowling heavily. "What's that face for? You ought to know better than to worry for our friend in this contest."

Malkin shook his head. "I only wonder as to why our commander took this ranger up on his wager without hearing its full terms. What favor does he seek from us? And what determines the victor? If it is the audience's support, then Kiril faces quite the daunting task. I'd say at least half this room would not cheer for him no matter how cleverly he made his phrasings."

"You ought to know enough the have more faith in the power of Kiril's mouth! He'll either win these onlookers over or wear his opponent into submission. We won't have to worry about this ranger's favor, but rather how to cope with his presence in our party."

Malkin remained unconvinced.

In the back of the room, the rest of the party could barely see through the crush of bodies from their table to view the two singers, but they clearly heard each of the first two songs. Thuri and Owin had struck up a friendly wager as to the eventual outcome. The old soldier naturally stuck by his comrade in good faith, while his civilian counterpart liked the ranger's odds better. After Fingil concluded, Thuri gave Owin an inquisitive look.

"Still standing by the long-legger?"

"Naturally," said Owin promptly in response, though his confidence seemed less solid than before.

Thuri shook his head in mock shame. "A traitor to your own kind!"

Owin merely shrugged. "I've a feeling in my beard, and I trust the sage wisdom of my whiskers in all things."

Froli, meanwhile, had been thoroughly alarmed to see the suspicious looking man spring up from his chair with a shout, but was quite relieved to see him target Kiril instead of his own person. As the contest began, he nonchalantly dismissed it as a frivolous exercise that debased the finer qualities of music.

"They've both terribly limited ranges, vocally, I mean," he spoke to Boffin, whom he now viewed as his only sympathetic ear in the party. "I've never much cared for the cacophony that wafts out of taverns every night, but apparently there are some who regard it as genuine song!"

He chortled huskily. "Evidently they've never witnessed a true display of vocal talent." With that remark he smugly rubbed his knuckles upon his chest, an indication that perhaps he thought himself capable of greater vocal feats.

But that hardly mattered to Boffin, as he noticed Kiril was just beginning to launch into his third song of the evening.

The soldier had halted from his pacing in the center of the open space allotted to him and Fingil. He placed his left hand upon his chest and extended his right one as far as it would go. He cleared his throat rather obnoxiously, and began the tune in a highly formal, exceedingly drawn out fashion. He let each phrase hang in the air just long enough for the audience to fully absorb it before moving on to the next line:

"When doling out tasks...
They chose his kind last...
With the fate of the beasts...
Their lot had been cast...
To tend to the trees...
The grubs and the bees...
The rangers... of... the... land!"

He stretched the final line of the introduction as long as it would go, and made a great theatrical pause to build the crowd's anticipation. Finally, Kiril began the main portion of the song with his now-familiar call of, "Ohhhh..." before stomping his feet in a steady, marching cadence and singing out in a ringing, jovial tone:

"Take this one, fer instance!
He lives his life in dirt!
'Twould be quite nice,
To give advice:
A bath could never hurt!"

"O but all the critters,
They treat him like a king!
Salute this lout,
With hoof and snout,
They warble and they sing!"

"And of course he repays them!
He waxes all their hides,
He cleans their dung,
With loyal tongue,
And sleeps with them besides!"

"I see he's made a new friend,
Up in the rafters high!
He'd rather talk,
In grunts and squawks,
Than speak like you and I!"

"So if you've any pity left,
Please give him all you can!
He thinks himself,
Fit for an Elf,
But he's still a charmless man!"

Kiril concluded the number with a seismic clap and a mighty, "HA!"

Removing his helmet, he mocked Fingil's bow with one of his own, bending so low that his beard scraped the floorboards. As he rose, he found his kinsmen all alight with applause and laughter. Halak had very nearly doubled over to the floor, but summoned enough strength to walk up behind Kiril and smack his back in congratulations.

Among the Men, Kiril also won a great deal of support. Since none of the others assembled were rangers, they could laugh at the dwarf's insults without the burden of thinking themselves targeted by his song. Still, a sizable contingent of the crowd withheld any showing of mirth for Kiril's effort. This development did not go unnoticed by him.

Kiril replaced his helmet upon his balding head as he gazed upon the ranger. The dwarf felt that Fingil would either fold here or considerably up his effort to compete. Regardless, as Kiril noted the man's amused expression, the dwarf began to think that he wouldn't so much mind having this fellow along, if their party was indeed forced to take a mannish traveler aboard...
 

chrysophalax

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"Truor Tupnm, eh? Impressive, as is your talent, my friend. I had only thought that Elves and the men of the wood east of the mountains understood animals. In any case, here's my hand and another drink...ah, and landlord...something, uh, suitable for the raven as well." Fingil had seen the irritated glint in the bird's eye when his companion had downed "his" drink and didn't want him to feel left out. The ranger was rather surprised at the welcome his song (if so it could be called) had received. Never one to back down from a fight, he realised however that in this case, he was facing a master.

As Kiril delivered his next vocal assault, he found himself grudgingly admiring the dwarf's mental agility and knew then without a doubt, he was in very deep waters. He cudgeled his brain for witticisms, but rhyme and metre were proving to be more elusive than a will-o-the-wisp on the Downs. If this dwarf was any representative of his race, then it was no wonder Truor had praised them earlier, for if their fighting skills matched their quips, then forminable they must be. He had to win...or at least, force a draw. It was time to go on the offensive, in more ways than one. He felt his lips curving into a grin.

With a nod to Truor and a wink to several others in the crowd, Fingil tossed back another ale, just to loosen his tongue a bit more. He listened politely and as Kiril's song concluded with a ear-splitting "HA!" he applauded along with the rest. "Master dwarf, I salute your gallant effort, yet I beg your indulgence once again. Never let it be said that a Ranger ever backed down whilst he could draw breath." With that, he jumped up on a chair and began to sing once more.

Now Kiril here, he's quite the master.
His rhyming, it couldn't be faster!
Though his beard is quite grizzled,
And his pants, he has pizzled,
Truth is, he's a walking disaster!

He loves his ale by the flagon,
and his ego's the size of a Dragon.
On his whiskers he'll choke
And in one final stroke,
He'll be carted back home in a wagon.

And then of course, there's his height.
The lack of which must be a fright.
In a fight he's no good
Tripping over his hood
Whilst the others make fun of his plight.

But this dwarf has a dark, brooding past
And a secret that he hoped would last.
He's a flower-picking dandy
With shears he's so handy!
As a hero, I'm afraid he's miscast.

He let out his breath with a whoosh and got down off the chair. He was sweating hard and he hoped his nerves weren't showing. He had done his rhyming on the fly and had decided to cut his losses before his knees started shaking. He looked around for someone to hand him a drink and hoped to whoever listened to such hopes that he would be able to spare the listeners further torment and himself further embarrassment.
 

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Although Boffin had been concentrating on acting like a good Dwarf, at least in what he thought that Froli's opinion might be, Kiril's song interested him. Mainly because he hadn't noticed that anyone in the place was a Ranger until then, and he had heard several good things about them from some old elf friends of his. He winced as the song ended and hoped that the Ranger would be good enough to back down. He had gotten the gist of what Froli had been saying, though, and raised hopeful eyebrows at the guy. "Oh, has your voice been trained for singing? Heh. Wouldn't it be amusing if you showed them all up? True, they might not be capable of appreciating any song you might choose, though." He couldn't help chuckling at the idea of Froli trying to show off and getting jeered out of the room, but he kept up the hope that Froli might still try something.

Truor quickly shook Fingil's arm and settled back on his stool to grab his mead and try to stay neutral. He wanted to introduce himself better, but thought that leaving the combatants room was wiser. The Dwarf was obviously better at this than the Ranger, but, as a confused bartender delivered a bowl of dirty water for the raven, the human was certainly winning his friend over. Truor was enjoying the posturing of the Dwarf and was a bit confused at the Ranger's lack of it, though.

When Malkin moved away, he got distracted and had to look around before he found him again. He frowned to himself and tried to remember what it was that the guy had been talking to him about. He quickly forgot about that, though, as he listened with a contented smile at the performances. They reminded him of the epic contests they used to have after a hard day's work in the Iron Hills. He was feeling more and more as if he wished for the company of Dwarves again. As soon as this battle is over, he decided, he'd try to track Malkin down again.

As he noted earlier, Kiril's songs had much better beats. They were also far more insulting, which was more of the point. After much clapping, he shook his head sorrowfully at Fingil. When the human's song was finished, Truor could almost taste his relief and inexperience. He looked around at the humans closest to them, to see if any would step up to help the guy first. When nobody did, he stood and grudgingly handed him his mead. "Hey, at least you've shown the stubbornness of a Dwarf. I gotta say that you're outmatched, in this fight, but that wouldn't hold him back, I'm sure!"

After ineffectually squawking at Truor to defend him against Kiril, Shadowflaps eventually gave up and attempted to drink from his bowl in peace, as several humans jostled in the area. After taking a drink and neatly flapping to Truor's shoulder, he pecked at the guy's helmet and squawked his thanks at Fingil in as dignified a way as a raven could.
 

Ghorim

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"Master dwarf, I salute your gallant effort, yet I beg your indulgence once again. Never let it be said that a Ranger ever backed down whilst he could draw breath."

"Not throwing yourself upon your own blade, eh? Admirable, indeed!" crowed Kiril as he watched the ranger climb atop a nearby chair.

The dwarf listened this time, though he did everything in his power to keep an apathetic mask in place. The ranger's insults aimed to cut deeper this time, but in the delivery Fingil stumbled, tripped up by his own nerves. The dwarf could sense that his opponent was out of his element, and noted each minute hiccup with a great satisfaction.

The ranger had indeed run up against a true professional. It was no coincidence that Kiril had chosen this format for his contest with Fingil. During periods of relative quiet in the barracks, Kiril, Halak and some other like-minded comrades often engaged in contests of wit and banter to pass the time. They would sit in their own little corner, their shouts and laughter occasionally drawing the annoyed glances of their graver comrades. Kiril was the group's undisputed champion, for he was well-versed in the subtle art of putting another fellow down. The insult was the currency of the bars back home, and from his formative years he had immersed himself in the tavern scene, honing his quips just as dutifully as he molded his body with martial discipline. Before he grew into his stocky frame, Kiril's wit was his best defense against hecklers.

In short, Kiril was hardly representative of his kind in this arena, as he possessed an exceptional talent and a bevy of experience in the field. The dull, repetitive life of a soldier rarely bred his caliber of wit. It required a mind raised outside of the military culture. Dvarim, whose heart had always beat to the unchanging rhythm of marching drums, would have been hopelessly lost in a contest that required such creativity.

Fingil concluded his verse, and even his most partial supporters seemed less enthused this time around. A call came to the ranger from his armored friend, who had now identified himself as the tongue-twisting Truor Tupnm.

"Hey, at least you've shown the stubbornness of a Dwarf. I gotta say that you're outmatched, in this fight, but that wouldn't hold him back, I'm sure!"

Truor's words proved to be spot on. Kiril sensed the perspiring ranger was ripe for a finishing blow, and made no efforts to stall for this round. He roared into his tune without a preamble, and took a few steps toward Fingil with each stanza, until he was right upon the ranger:

"Is that sweat upon your brow?
I think that awful queer, just now,
You said my drawers had got all wet,
So why’s it you who’s so upset?
Maybe it’s high time that you get,
Yourself out of this show!"

"You’ve had a crowd, to my dismay,
That hoots at anything you say,
But how can they honestly cheer,
A fellow too possessed by fear,
To sing more boldly than a deer,
Time to call it a day!"

"My head is closer to the floor?
I’ve nae heard that insult before!
So clever, singing of my height,
And you’ve put up a decent fight,
But now it’s time to say good night,
And strain our ears no more!"

"The winner of this fight’s foregone,
There’s no more point in carrying on,
I’ll let you now rest and recoup,
To drink some ale and sup some soup,
For you are now part of our group,
We march tomorrow at dawn!"

Upon this final line, Kiril extended his hand toward the ranger with a broad smile, essentially offering an end to hostilities if Fingil acknowledged that he had lost his bet with old Dvarim and the match to Kiril.

Back at the dwarves' table, Thuri had seen enough to conclude his own wager. "Pay up," he said to Owin, extending an open palm to accept his winnings.
 

chrysophalax

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Surprise, outrage and relief chased themselves across Fingil's face as Kiril concluded his song. He glared long and hard at the outstretched hand before him and at the rather feral gleam in the dwarf's eye. Oddly, a part of him felt somehow honoured that he had passed some sort of test, thereby earning a tentative place with this band of Durin's folk. HIs pride still stinging from the lash of defeat, he grasped the dwarf's hand and gripped it hard, letting Kiril know there was fight left in him yet.

"Well played, Blackbeard. Aye, I know when I am beaten, but never mistake victory for conquest. I assure you I can be no mean foe, but I am a better friend." With that, he clapped the dwarf on the back and brought what was left of the keg to the long table where the rest of Kiril's party sat grinning like wolves in a sheepyard. They pounded his back and began a raucous chorus of "O, that charmless man" as several of them collected bets, much to Fingil's chagrin. Right now what concerned him most was how to approach the dour dwarven leader about events soon to unfold. How could he join with them when civil war was threatening to break on his own doorstep?

Chewing his lip in thought, he glanced over to where Truor sat downing his mead. This man seems to know dwarves. It's possible he can help me decide how to go about this. Having made up his mind, Fingil sat himself down next to a fat, youngish-looking dwarf, then looked over, tried to catch Truor's eye, but caught the vigilant raven's eye instead. He pulled off a chunk of fresh bread from a still-warm loaf and held it up, hoping to attract either bird or master. In his heart the ranger knew already that he would probably go with these dwarves, at least for a time, but he couldn't leave without at least trying to let others know of the situation, since his own warnings had fallen on his nephew's deaf ears. At least his conscience would be clear.
 

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The fat and youngish Dwarf was Boffin, who was a bit disappointed that the contest was already over and his chance to see what Froli could do was gone. He tossed a ---> "Oh, well. Maybe next time, eh, Froli? But it looks like we have another travelling companion! Hm. A Ranger will be very helpful, even though we already have Zubrim." More quietly and to himself, while leaning back to gauge the human from up close ---> "I wonder if he knows any elves in the area!"

Truor grabbed his freshest mug of mead and tried to talk himself into a method by which he could join the group, too. Sure, he had been interested in the lands west of the Anduin, but he had been wandering for at least a couple of years, already. If these Dwarves planned on travelling through the Vale of Anduin at some point, though, it would be nice to have them along on a short visit home. They were probably headed to Moria, at least, which he had never seen. But then again, they were moving at dawn, and he loved to sleep in.

Shadowflaps pecked at his helmet again and ordered him to move closer to the group, so that he could reach the bread without having to leave his perch. Truor glared with good humor, then brushed the bird off. He turned on his stool to talk to Fingil, though, as the raven awkwardly reoriented itself and found a place on the Ranger's left shoulder to accept his gift. "I guess I'm so new to the area that I've never heard of Rangers. They have more than an average understanding of their animals, then? Heh. It's been a while since Shadowflaps has been treated so well!"
 

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Why else would have Kiril offered a handshake were he not angling to test the ranger's resolve? That's all handshakes were good for, after all. They illuminated the character of strangers and revealed the mood of old acquaintances. Were it not for the firm impression that Fingil made on his gloved hand, Kiril might have doubted the sincerity of the ranger's sullen words. But the sturdy grip did what mere speech could not.

"Well played, Blackbeard. Aye, I know when I am beaten, but never mistake victory for conquest. I assure you I can be no mean foe, but I am a better friend."

"So you've got some sense in you, after all!" chuckled Kiril. The torches that lit the tavern cast into sharp relief all the crevices and valleys etched upon the dwarf's face. His countenance was as rugged and worn as the mountains he called home, but now it was arranged into an expression of boundless amusement.

"I shall keep your words well in mind," he continued. "I can only guess that you wield your blade with more precision than your tongue! Otherwise you'd have no reason to sound so confident."

Still the dwarf basked in his fierce sense of triumph, but at the same time he knew that the ranger would be eager to show him up at the first opportunity. For this dwarf, the prospect of a brewing rivalry was just another thing to grin about. Kiril was certainly not commander material by any stretch of the imagination. Yet he was remarkably effective at motivating others to achieve beyond their abilities, mostly by fostering in them a healthy resentment for his own person.

"But come! Join the rest of your new companions at the table in the back. We've no more business here at the bar tonight. I'll introduce you to all the others! No doubt all the bearded faces blend together in your mind, but I'll straighten you out!" Kiril set to marching back to the table, but stop abruptly and spun about. "And don't forget the keg!"

The other dwarves at the bar followed Kiril to the back of the main room, and soon the entire traveling party had crowded together in a tight huddle, save for Zubrim, who evidently had found the air outdoors much more to his liking. Dvarim, his face all stone and iron, hung back from the clump slightly and observed the ranger with a skeptical eye. He knew too little of the fellow to welcome him in with open arms as Kiril seemed to do without further questioning. Aye, he had agreed to the ranger's wager, but only for the lack of another viable resolution to what could have easily become a violent tiff.

Kiril commenced his introductions without delay. None at the table emerged unscathed as he named each of them to Fingil.

He described Froli as "the most elegant whiner this side of the Misties. The stirring way in which he complains about his aching feet and empty belly... it never fails to bring a tear to my eye."

Boffin, meanwhile, was the party's "secret weapon in combat. Aye, when we're locked in a pitched battle with a five-course meal with a side of ale, there's none I'd rather have on my side than this fellow here!"

Thuri possessed "a memory that runs as long and as deep as the Anduin. Just don't ask him to dip into it! He'll wear your ears down to nothing!"

"Is that so?" replied Thuri coolly. "Now that sounds like the orc calling the troll ugly."

Kiril paused and cleared his throat, and it was apparent that the old soldier had struck a fine parry to his comrade's insult. Without attempting a retort, Kiril turned to his commander, the only one left whom he had yet to introduce.

"And that's our commander, Dvarim, standing behind you."

Fingil turned in his chair. He offered a formal introduction of himself, which was a wise decision, since up to this point not even Kiril had known the ranger's name. The party had simply thought of him as "that charmless man." Dvarim hardly acknowledged Fingil's address.

"You've your own supplies?" he asked coldly.

The ranger nodded with a sharp bob of his chin.

"Good. I expect you to provide for yourself for the duration of your stay with our party. We did not pack for eleven. I do accept your presence within our ranks, but only if you hold your own. Dead weight's no use to us, for we've already enough of it."

Dvarim glanced at no member of the party in particular as he spoke, but those at the table had a fair idea of who the commander was referring to.

"We are headed far to the East of the land to meet with some estranged kin. Our guide, Zubrim, is out on a constitutional at the moment, but when he returns I would like you to consult with him on our intended path. Perhaps in that realm you could be of some use."

Dvarim's inflections revealed nothing of his feelings toward the ranger, but he seemed quite stern, with each sentence gilded in steel and delivered like a sharp palm to the chest. The commander was about to ask the ranger of his background and experience, and what he knew of the immediate area. The outspoken figure of Truor, however, emerged from the bar with his raven in tow to complement the manners of Fingil. Dvarim respectfully receded, and allowed the two to converse, though his taskmaster's gaze held intensely upon the pair.

The other dwarves seemed to split off into their own talks, no longer held silent under the authoritative heft of Dvarim's words. Mainly they spoke of these two strangers, Fingil and Truor, glancing at them curiously from the corners of their eyes. The opinion seemed universal - though both seemed pleasant enough on the surface, the dwarves had yet to discern the true characters of these men. Few of the travelers could feel at ease until they knew whence these fellows came, and just where their interests lay...
 
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chrysophalax

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A sharp peck from the raven's beak drew a muffled oath from Fingil's lips. He glanced sharply at Shadowflaps, who was gazing sharply back at him as though to tell him to pay attention to Truor. "Indeed, Truor. Many of my brethren that dwell in the North care for all living things. We men are not the only intelligent creations of the Valar by any means!" He grinned at the raven as Truor came and settled near him.

Kiril meanwhile had been rapidly introducing his companions to Fingil, complete with acidic comments. He nodded briefly as each name was mentioned and was about to speak when their leader, Dvarim, broke in. He curtly assessed Fingil's state of readiness, then made himself scarce before the ranger could even have a word with him. It was becoming more and more apparent to him that the dwarven race was not to be taken lightly. One wrong step and he felt sure he'd be on his way home in several intricately carved boxes.

He had overheard the comment made by Boffin and so took a moment to answer him. "Aye, good sir. I am known to Cirdan, who dwells still in the Havens to the West and I have a passing acquaintance with several of the border guards of Lord Elrond's realm, though I have never journeyed there. Mysterious folk are Elves and far too cold for my taste. I normally prefer my own company or the company of a few select comrades." He turned then to Truor, who sat sipping his mead quietly. "Tell me your story, friend. You say you are a traveller. From whence do you hail? I can honestly say I've never encountered anyone clad quite so..." he looked the man over curiously, "... haphazardly. Surely there must be a story or two in that!" He then leaned a little closer to Truor, keeping his voice low. "And you say you know about dwarves. Are they as handy in battle as they look?" The fact that Dvarim had eluded him so swiftly was cause for concern and he began to wonder if he had bitten off more than he could chew.
 

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Boffin beamed at what he took as a strange sort of compliment from Kiril, but when he figured it out, he flinched and switched to rolled eyes and an amused smirk. Instead of feeling sorry for himself when Dvarim mentioned dead weight, though, he took a deep breath while reminding himself that he'd find a way to demonstrate his usefulness, at some point. Maybe not in combat, which he hoped to avoid, but if they had to deal with elves? Or maybe if the eastern clans were so different that only he, the only open-minded one of the group, in his opinion, could relate to them? But that would be too unlikely, he decided.

His eyes glittered with hope and interest when Fingil responded, but when he found that the guy wasn't a large fan of elves, too, he closed his eyes in despair. Even a Ranger, of a kind of human that several elves had spoken well of, found his passion disagreeable? All of the new drinks getting passed around interested him, though. Getting happy and drunk would be a good way to get by, until he could prove himself, he thought. He obtained a portion of ale and tracked Dvarim, wishing that he could prove himself to someone that famous.

Truor, not the type to believe every superstition and myth that he heard, made no effort to hide his scoff at Fingil's remark about Valar. He hadn't heard Boffin's quiet hope, which made his eyebrow rise at talk of elves, but once the idea of telling stories was in his head, he forgot all about his misgivings. Halted from launching into a tall tale by Fingil's private question, Truor frowned and tried to lower his voice, too, a task that he was very unused to. He eventually gave up and started giving a speech.

"Hm? Well, yes! What, you don't get many Dwarves out here? Too bad. I've never fought in a fully pitched battle with any, unless you count the occassional bar fight, which they sometimes would. Don't count them out just because of their size! They've got several times the strength and spirit of many men I've fought! The stubbornness of a Dwarf, that's what I admire! Sure, people call them dull, for never giving up, but what'd you rather have by your side? The, well, I guess, purity of a Dwarf's actions or the cowardice, the deceptiveness, the, um, indecisiveness of anybody else? Huh? Hey, I'll admit that I've got all of those qualities together. I've even seen a Dwarf or two with the same. But, yeah, Dwarves are good in a fight. So's anybody who's got the experience. All I'm saying is that they've got my kind of outlook."
 

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"If Kiril's actions are anything to go on for stubbornness, then I fully agree with you. And I would never use the word "dull" to describe these folk, either." He took a long swallow from his tankard and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "I would not want to find myself at the wrong end of any dwarf's axe, is my thinking. " Fingil found that he and Truor had become the subject of much speculation among their erstwhile companions. Several of the dwarves kept darting speculative glances at the two men and he found that being the cause of so much scrutiny was a bit unnerving.

"Save my seat if you would, Truor. I feel the need to stretch these long legs of mine." Truor shrugged non-committally as Fingil slipped from his chair and vanished up the staircase to the rooms above. He had felt a sudden urge to check on his possessions, since he very rarely spent the night anywhere but out in the open. Not that he had much really, only a large, weather-beaten rucksack, which held a few personal items, a kit for field dressing and a change of clothing.

His sword he had left standing next to the head of the bed. When he opened the door to his hired room, he saw with relief that nothing had apparently been disturbed. This inn could be dodgy at the best of times, but he himself had never suffered loss at the hands of either patron or staff here, since his own rather shady appearance normally provided all the protection he needed. Fingil crossed to the bed feeling abnormally skittish, guilty almost. The ranger sat and forced himself to admit that coming up to his room had only been a ruse, a means of confronting his own doubts, away from the others. Here he was, about to abandon his nephew and his cause and for what? To act as guide to a party of dwarves wo were bound for regions unknown? What reason did he have for shirking his responsibilities? His head was starting to ache now from both ale and stress. I'm bound to fulfill my wager, but can I convince these strangers of the danger that will most certainly erupt throughtout these lands within a very few days, weeks at most? And what happens if I can't?

Shoving his thoughts aside, Fingil took a deep breath and threw some cold water on his face. Maybe a good meal a few more pints will make me see everything in a better light come morning. If not, at least I probably won't be able to remember all my problems! With that he, descended the stairs and resumed his place at the table, after hungrily ordering food and making sure that more ale would be flowing.
 

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Truor and Fingil did themselves no small favor by complimenting the battle prowess of the Khazad. The soldiers banged their fists on the table in assent to each compliment cast their way. One might have expected a member of the party's military escort to add a few words of agreement, especially Kiril. But the group's most outspoken member seemed to have run out of energy and saliva from all of his verbal acrobatics, and leaned back heavily in his chair. Surprisingly, it was the noble Froli who chimed in to bolster the claims made by Truor.

"Indubitably, my good sir! I've made the rounds back in the mountains of our home and examined many a military unit as they conducted exercises. Granted, I've never seen a mannish regiment at work, save for the few that have hurried by our path on this journey, but I think our race's infantry to be exceptional for a variety of reasons."

"Part of it is the conditioning. Our immortal Lord Mahal, with discerning eyes and loving hands, fashioned us to withstand the most extreme rigors of this world, and that immaculate design shows in the tireless ethic of these fellows. It allows them to march for leagues without tiring, and in battle they are relentless, decimating the enemy's line with what can only be called an insatiable hunger that goes beyond the mere fulfillment of duty."

"But perhaps more important to our army's success is the inherent trust that each soldier has for the other. Men covet each other's kingdoms, and will without a thought raze a kinsman's house to the ground if his king commands it. Elves, too, have kinslaying and faction engrained in their history. But though the children of the Seven Fathers have scattered throughout the lands in search of fortune, we all retain within our hearts a certain link. I believe it to be the mark of our shared creator, impressed upon each of our spirits. Certainly, we still quarrel. But these disputes are strictly diplomatic. Civil war, for us, is unthinkable, and the slaying of kin more reprehensible than any other offense."

"Watch a regiment at work and you see that collective mindset. Every foot soldier is prepared to sacrifice for his fellows without a thought. They move in agitated excitement, but with a purpose, shared and unspoken. 'Tis a truly magnificent vision to behold. I believe our army is built to foster this sort of unity, as well. Soldiers rarely transfer out of their units, and the lifespan of our kin ensures that they will spend a good many years forging an unbreakable sense of loyalty to their comrades. Why, take our two elder army representatives, for instance! Sir Thuri, how long have you and Sir Dvarim served in the same regiment?"

Thuri, who was once again packing his beloved pipe, had paused at Froli's sprawling speech, and responded to his query as a thoughtful expression lightened his graying features.

"Well, we don't serve together any longer. I enlisted a few years after he did, and... hmm! It was quite awhile before Dvarim graduated up to the First Division. I'd say... well... over one hundred summers passed as we trained and fought together."

Froli nodded with an enthusiastic smile. "One hundred! That's longer than a Man's lifetime!" He turned to face the opposite end of the table. "And what of you and Sir Kiril, Sir Halak?"

"A little over half of that," said Halak with a nod. "I've had the pleasure of enduring Kiril's antics for a good sixty years or more."

"Ah! So you see," said Froli, turning back to the two men, "our troops have many, many years to develop a true sense of brotherhood with one another. I'm of the belief that the average soldier in our army is of comparable prowess to his mannish counterpart. But two dwarvish soldiers are as good as four Men in combat. Three Khazad might as well be eight Men, and so on. The reason for this disparity is the exceptional camaraderie that our troops display, which can only come from decades of experience and the benefit of a fierce loyalty to their race."

The five soldiers listened to Froli's explanations with an amused attentiveness. Certainly, none of them doubted that he had a self-serving agenda for all of these glowing descriptions. He wanted to butter them up so they would stop using his bloated figure for verbal target practice. And yet beneath those words lay a heated passion that none of the troops could deny. For all his elitist detachment, Froli seemed to have a genuine affinity for the army and its members. Of course, he had painted an overly rosy picture of relations among the forces, his perspective blurred by the loftiness of his perch. But none of the soldiers felt the need to adjust his more ignorant perceptions. On the whole, Froli had spoken accurately, and that was good enough for them.

Fingil took leave of the company after Froli had fallen silent, and the conversation for a time turned to the basic matters of the journey. The soldiers were curious as to whether they could expect more nights further down the road with only the sky as their roof. As used as they were to sharing cramped quarters with their comrades, the group seemed unanimous in its desire to have some more individual space when it came time to bed down. Certainly, none of them minded sleeping on the ground, though they all expected some complaints from the civilian contingent on that point. For his part, Dvarim remained noncommittal, stressing that it was up to Fingil and even moreso Zubrim on where to direct their party. His mention of the bluebeard sparked a round of speculation as to where the guide had ventured off to.

"He's probably spending the night in the best establishment in town and leaving us here in this hole," said Halak.

"His old hunter instincts probably have him scouting for game in the city streets," said Malkin.

"Whorehouse," said Kiril confidently, offering a devious smirk.

When Fingil returned, Dvarim seized the opportunity to uncover the past of this fellow who now shared the responsibility for this journey's course. The old commander had noted that Truor had ducked Fingil's questions as to his own experiences, but the dwarf was far more interested in this ranger's background. Upon the unwitting man's head he unleashed a ferocious volley of questions.

"So then, Fingil... I believe we're all curious as to your qualifications. Whence hail you? How many years have you honed your craft, and who has aided you in that development? What degree of experience have you with the lands east of here, especially beyond the Misty Mountains? Just how far in that direction have your travels taken you? What can we expect there?"

Implicit in all these queries was the basic question of, "Why should we trust you with our fate?"

The ever-perceptive Malkin had a few questions of his own with regards to Fornost in particular, and what Fingil might know about the stirrings among the area's armed forces that had him and Truor so confused and concerned. But the young soldier figured that his questions coupled with Dvarim's would be too much for the ranger to answer in one breath. So Malkin patiently allowed the beleaguered fellow to weather his commander's interrogation, reserving his own inquiries for later...
 

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A barrage of questions greeted the ranger once he had settled himself at the table. A large tankard appeared before him, which he thirstily downed before answering. "I hope that wench is quick with the food! I can see that speaking with dwarves is going to require some sustenance." In truth though, Fingil was beginning to feel an unwonted sense of camaraderie with this group of soldiers, which puzzled him, since he had always been very much the loner. He looked down along the length of the table and his gaze was greeted directly by direct, assessing stares. You'd think I was back studying histories with Earandur. he thought as he recalled the elven tutor the two young men had had growing up. He'd never imagined he'd ever see quite so penetrating a stare as that again. He was wrong.

"My qualifications. Ah...well, I am first and foremost, a swordsman, thoughly I am no mean hand with daggers, in essence, I grew up man and boy, with a blade in my hand. Though I can claim only forty years on Arda thus far, my venerable friends, I am descended from a long-lived house of men and am...was...brother to our king, Earandur. We are Numenorians, remnants of the Elf-friends. Many of us live still, on rare occasion, close to two hundred years, which I know is little to you, but very long for men. We are called rangers by other folk that dwell in these lands and we guard and protect our realm jealously.

My comrades and I patrol all the borders, from the Tower Hills at the base of Ered Luin, to the southernmost tip of the Greyflood in the south. Westward, I have travelled to the feet of the Misty Mountains, just below where, it is said, dwells Lord Elrond and north to the Ettenmoors. With all these lands, I am well acquainted and can guide you through them, even on the darkest night. I have no knowledge, except by messenger of the lands beyond, though I would be eager to explore them." A large trencher, filled with a fragrant, meat-laden stew was placed before him and he tucked in, heedless of his audience for a few breathless moments. When he finally came up for air, he saw several amused grins on the faces nearest him. "Likes his grub well by the look! Boffin, you may have a rival here soon!" said Kiril heartily. "Don't mind us, long-legs. We'll wait."

Fingil bowed his head to Kiril in mock-salute and rapidly finished his meal. It had been nearly three days since he'd last eaten a solid meal and he was grateful for this one. At last, he shoved back his chair with a belch. "Ahhhh, excellent! Now, anymore questions...because I have a few myself." He wasn't about to let this opportunity escape again, not with Froli's words echoing insistently his head. Civil war, for us, is unthinkable...
 

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Fingil's replies produced more than a few points of interest for the listeners at the table. For each of those gathered, however, those pertinent points took on a different form. Kiril heard only the ranger's age and sniggered.

"Forty? Ain't it past your bedtime, junior?"

Halak's attention caught on the ranger's lineage. He removed his helmet, unveiling a lively mane of dark brown hair.

"Brother to the king!" he exclaimed with no small degree of surprise. "Well, to be at a table with royalty is quite the honor. Though... from the sound of it, your brother is no more. My condolences."

The dwarf spoke these last two words out of more than mere reflex. He did not throw them away, but rather uttered them with a pointed sincerity, as his dark eyes held rock steady upon Fingil's. Halak felt the ranger's loss reverberated through the memories of his own brother's demise. The soldier's thoughts drifted to those empty pegs by the door in his mother's decaying house. The luster departed from Kiril's grin as his glance floated Halak's way. He discreetly offered his friend a brief pat on the shoulder.

Froli also dwelt upon Fingil's bloodline, and suddenly felt ashamed for having ever suspected the man to be a petty thief. Still, the ranger certainly hadn't behaved in a manner becoming of a fellow of his stature! Why, he must have committed at least a dozen breaches of proper etiquette in his singing match with Kiril. And what shoddy table manners, besides! These... Numenorians must have diminished expectations for their leaders, Froli thought to himself. All the same, he felt a great deal more comfortable with Fingil guiding the way than he had been before this revelation.

Dvarim, meanwhile, arched a brow at Fingil's royal claim.

And what is the brother of a deceased king doing out here on his own?

True, the rangers were lone wargs by trade, but it still did not make much sense to the old soldier. Shouldn't a member of the royal family be engaged in more important pursuits than verbally jousting with strangers in taverns? It seemed that the Numenorian line of succession must have passed by Fingil. Perhaps he had another older brother? But no, if that were the case, the ranger would have maintained that he was still brother to the king. So perhaps there was a son of Earandur... a nephew to Fingil...

Dvarim was about to ask for some clarification on this matter in no gentle terms, but his subordinate Malkin seemed to have a more pressing query of his own, and pounced upon a brief lull in the conversation to ask it.

"So you're better versed in the lay of this general region, it seems," said the young dwarf, lightly jabbing his index finger upon the table. "Perhaps you could tell us more of its current state, then. A great apprehension continues to tug upon my thoughts as I watch regiment after regiment of mannish troops sweep past our party along the roads. They move in tight formation, and their faces are fevered... they are engaged in something greater than simple drills. Among the civilians as well, something seems to oppress their every motion, as if a hidden hand has taken a deadly grip upon their spirits."

"I know that I am not the only one in this party who has taken notice of these rumblings. And Truor asked me of this very matter when we were stationed at the bar. I could offer him no information, but perhaps you, Fingil, could either settle our fears or at least verify them. What plagues these lands, and how will it affect our progress East?"

All eyes once again trained upon the ranger after Malkin concluded. Fingil, unfortunately, was not escaping this grilling without having to face the matter that had racked his own thoughts for so long...
 

chrysophalax

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With no little trepidation, Fingil leaned forward conspiratorially. Instinctively, the others drew nearer, even Truor. "This is the way of it." said Fingil. "Months it has been since my older brother died and...I thank you for your kind thought...Halak, is it? It was a hard thing to lose him, but an even harder thing has been watching his younger sons trying to wrest the kingdom away from it's rightful heir, Amlaith, as he wishes to style himself. He has no desire to continue on in the old ways and so does not intend to take an Elven name when...if he assumes the throne." His hands became fists for a moment and he closed his eyes as though recalling something painful.

"Earendur's sons have all attempted to sound me out, hoping to curry favour with me. And, yes...of course I lead many of those who remain and yes, I know to whom I will give my allegiance, but...there should be no choice! The realm should go to Amlaith, whole and intact. Instead, his power-mad brothers wish to tear Arnor to bits, each wishing to rule, no matter the cost and it sickens me." Indeed, Fingil looked as though he had eaten bad meat, for he had become pale and wan, though it was more from anger than anything else. "It has been in my mind to ask for your help, though I know this is no quarrel of yours." He looked down at the remains of his meal and pushed it away, wondering how he had ever had the heart to eat it.

"I have no wish to be made a pawn, don't you see? My men are in danger as long as they can be used and I will not cost such loyal men their lives!" He looked again more deeply into what he hoped were the eyes of friends. "I know I must look to you like some wandering wastrel, but I assure you, I am merely laying low. I have no desire to declare myself openly until or unless I must. In the meantime, those under my command have gone to ground and will not re-emerge until I get word to them." He paused only a moment, then finished with a rush.

"I ask your counsel in this...as fellow warriors. Should I stay and fight to assure the succession, or is it wise to remain aloof and let my beloved land be torn apart? In any case, I will honour my commitment to you, but it is also in my mind to join with you in order to seek out possible help from those of my kin who dwell in Gondor. Tell me, all of you...what must I do?"
 

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Boffin's urge to join the army, after hearing Froli's speech, was quickly extinguished by way of only the lightest contemplation. He shook his head to clear it, which was still too easy for him. Since the animosity seemed to have died down, he was not afraid to find himself a perch at the bar, to drink without getting distracted.

When Fingil ended up asking for opinions, Boffin's eyes grew wide with confusion and amazement. After placing his mug back on the counter and speaking up ---> "Neither sounds good! Are your nephews so young that they won't listen? Oh. Right. I guess so, since things have progressed to this. I'm sorry. But what can we do to help? Uh, we're really only passing through, but that's not a good excuse. Oh... Ask the elves!" His awkward reaction ended up where he was comfortable again, with him beaming at his own end-all answer.

Truor, on the other hand, edged away when help was asked for. Thoughts---> "It's not my problem! I'm just passing through, sampling the flavors! I figured they just had an active military, not that a war'd be breaking out! Argh! This guy wants to get to Gondor, too, and that's not where they're headed. These Dwarves should know better than to get too involved, though. I'll just slip out with them, then." He didn't wish to seem cowardly in front of the Dwarves, so he weaved his surprised flinch into a sniff at Fingil's abandoned stew before addressing him.

"Ugh. That's the best they've got? Now, look, you're asking something that a bunch of wandering warriors aren't the best to answer. I'd say that it sounds like your eldest nephew's problem. If he doesn't know that, you should knock some sense into him! Let him fight for what's his, get those brothers back in place! Froli, you tell him!" Proud that he had learned at least a couple of their names, even though Froli was especially easy to identify, Truor waved the floor into the Dwarf's possession, since he assumed that he was the group's best orator.

He then hid his face behind his mug, which he looked worriedly into. After a good gulp, he took a second to wipe the sudden sweat of panic off of his forehead, then glared wearily at Shadowflaps. "Why didn't you know about any of this?" The bird had flown back to the rafters and had been expecting a complaint. He loudly explained that they hadn't even been there long, and there weren't even any other Crebain around to contact. He suggested forgetting about the Dwarves and evacuating as soon as possible.
 

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Just as the group had collectively leaned in to absorb Fingil's words in a tight, secretive circle, so their heads dispersed upon the speech's conclusion. Each member of the party seemed to weigh and measure Fingil's options in his own mind. Only Dvarim remained fastened in his posture, for his mind was already decided on the matter. But Boffin spoke first for the group.

"Neither sounds good! Are your nephews so young that they won't listen? Oh. Right. I guess so, since things have progressed to this. I'm sorry. But what can we do to help? Uh, we're really only passing through, but that's not a good excuse. Oh... ask the Elves!"

"Ask the Elves?" asked Kiril, his dark caterpillar eyebrows shooting up as he repeated Boffin's proposed solution. He glanced at the fat dwarf queerly, and for once the blackbeard was left vainly searching for the proper words to fill his mouth.

Truor went next.

"Ugh. That's the best they've got? Now, look, you're asking something that a bunch of wandering warriors aren't the best to answer. I'd say that it sounds like your eldest nephew's problem. If he doesn't know that, you should knock some sense into him! Let him fight for what's his, get those brothers back in place! Froli, you tell him!"

The noble blinked a few times as Truor turned the hot light of the group's attention fully upon his face. As far as Froli knew, Fingil was just asking for the soldiers' opinions! What had he to say of military strategy, of the strange martial code of honor that seemed to bond all warriors throughout the realms together into one exclusive fraternity?

Froli instinctively collapsed back into his owl pose, clearing his throat with a great deal of staged effort. "Well... it's quite the conundrum that you've stumbled upon, Sir Fingil! And once again it all seems to prove my previous point about you Men and your feuds. Relatives shedding each other's blood, no less! Surely your brother must have named one of his sons as the primary successor? Would not the others abide by his wishes? Hmm... but yes, as for staying or going..."

"I see not why it ought to be an issue!" cried Dvarim, launching a surprise raid upon the conversation with his characteristic intensity. He leaned in further toward Fingil, and suddenly he was once again a drill sergeant, chewing up an incompetent private under his command. "What exactly obscures the correct choice in your eyes, ranger? Let not the word 'cowardice' leave my lips, for surely you would raise all of Mordor in protestation. Is this not the land that bore and raised you? The land you learned to wield sword to defend? What then would lead you to abandon it in its greatest hour of need? If you believe so strongly in this nephew of yours - Amlaith - then go to him! Stand by his right hand in a display of your blood loyalty! Do not lurk in the shadows in hiding!"

The commander spat upon the floor, and continued his diatribe. "Laying low, indeed! You enter into a frivolous rhyming contest with my fool of a subordinate here? How have you time for such games when the heart of your nation is being gouged out of its bosom? And what's more, you agree to accompany us on a mission completely unrelated to the crisis of these lands. What were you trying to do... escape the responsibility of your position? Why, if I were in your favored nephew's boots, I'd..."

Here Thuri could listen no longer. Among those gathered, only he could have ambushed his commander in the middle of such a rant, with Dvarim's agitated spittle flying every which direction and his eyes bulging furiously. Old Thuri's words came flowing as a mountain stream: both gentle and yet doggedly insistent in charting its course, dousing the hot coals of Dvarim's infamous temper.

"There are many strategic advantages to be had from drawing little attention to oneself... it is more a show of cunning than of cowardice. Yet I think Fingil here would be the first to admit that he violated both his aims of stealth and of seeking a proper resolution to this brewing maelstrom by facing off against Kiril as he did." Thuri, such a striking counterweight to his friend Dvarim, took the time to blow a gentle smoke ring from his pipe as he paused between words to think. The wispy circle gradually rose toward the ceiling, undulating and eventually dissolving into mist along the way.

"The policy of our folk is not to tamper with the affairs that rest solely in the hands of Men or Elves. In short, if it has no tangible effect on us, we keep our noses out. Some call this selfish, isolationist... but it is merely practical."

The old dwarf took another contemplative puff on his pipe.

"Nae, I believe all are agreed here that we cannot directly intervene on behalf of any of the candidates for the throne, even if one is as clearly deserving of the title as you claim, Fingil. To do so would be to inject ourselves into what could turn out to be a messy conflict. Men may yet throw the lives of their own away in vain contests for power, but the Khazad have yet to stoop so low."

Thuri ashed his pipe upon his empty plate now, his features still creased with concentration as he mused upon this matter. This time, no one attempted to charge into the silence left in his wake. There seemed an exceptional reverence for the soldier amongst his kin. Even Dvarim looked to his friend in respectful silence, though in simmering rage he contained within his clenched jaw the forge fires of the entire Ered Luin.

"I suppose that is the favor you would have asked of us had you bested Kiril?" asked Thuri, the notes of his voice light with amusement. He ran an idle finger along his broad mustache, following the route of the hairs as they curled upward along his wrinkled cheeks. "But nae, 'twas never to be. We follow the doctrine of our kin, and besides, we have a mission of our own to fulfill, and cannot afford to mire ourselves in any unnecessary affairs."

"Perhaps you misunderstood our route, Fingil. For I disagree with Dvarim in that I believe leaving this realm might serve your purposes, if you could find allies abroad to rally behind Amlaith. But where we are headed, I doubt you shall find any such support. We plan to go dead East, through Khazad-dum, past the Lonely Mountain and the Iron Hills into the farthest Eastern reaches of the land. There supposedly dwells what some call the lost tribe of the Khazad. We hope to reopen commercial and diplomatic ties with this group. Gondor, which you mentioned, lies nowhere along this path."

"My opinion, and of course it is but mine alone, is that you should part ways with us and head for Gondor. Explain the circumstances of this botched succession to their king. If the right is as clearly on Amlaith's side as you say, then you should not fail to acquire some sort of assistance from the South. Then you must gauge the battlefield, which in this case covers the whole of Arnor. You care for the lives of your troops. 'Tis a praiseworthy sentiment. So, ensure that their efforts will not be diverted in futility. I will say no more of what strategy you should adopt, for I fear I've already involved myself too much in this matter by giving you such advice."

"I understand that you are obligated by a shake of the hand to accompany us to our final destination, but I think it clear that Dvarim would prefer you fulfill your duty to this realm than your duty to his hand. We can release you from your oath in the name of the greater honor. Then you can concentrate fully on supporting Amlaith's cause. Of course, there is more than one way to win a war..."

And with this, Thuri gave a sharp gaze to his commander. His eyes were a placid lake on the surface, but Dvarim could sense something dark and powerful beneath their bluish-gray exterior. His lips locked together, though not without indignation. For a time, there was silence at the table.
 

chrysophalax

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Fingil's face grew taut and controlled as the Dwarves said their piece. He made a mental note to himself never to ask the opinion of a dwarf again unless absolutely necessary. Silently, he listened until they were done, then he once again leaned forward.

"A policy of non-interference you say? Cowardice, you say? I say you nay on both counts, sons of Durin! Never let it be said that all lore died with the breaking of the land, for many tales have I heard of the dwarves in elder days joining forces with men and yes, even elves when there was need. I have also heard tell that Thingol of Doriath was slain by dwarven hands. Is this not so? It may be different among your folk, but I count regicide as a vile and treacherous act." A harsh growling started all along the table and Fingil held up his hand.

"Nay, nay. You had your say at my expense, now I will have mine. Neither of our peoples are completely virtuous, but by the same token, neither are they completely evil. I asked for counsel and I recieved the same. I can ask no more. You now know that, for a time at least, you will be travelling through a land more unsettled that you had thought. And yes, it is true that in my desperation...desperation, not cowardice, I thought to persuade you to come with me, to possibly meet with Amlaith." He ran his fingers through already tousled hair. "To be honest, none of Earendur's sons are as capable as he was. I fear for my people, no matter who takes the throne. All of his sons have forsaken the old lore and many of their father's teachings. To them, elves and dwarves, dragons and orcs are more myth than reality. I had hoped to persuade at least Amlaith otherwise."

Fingil looked each of his listeners in the eye before he continued. "There is one primary reason for keeping the realm of Arnor intact, but I am not at liberty to tell you why, not yet at least." He turned then to the venerable Thuri, who sat gazing at him solemnly. "You mention there being more than one way to end a war. Don't keep me in hope if you have none to give. Tell me your thoughts!"
 

Ciryaher

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Pausing at the door of the tavern, Zûbrim let his hand rest on the knob and he heaved a heavy sigh. His ears were as tired from straining to listen in on conversations as were his feet from creeping about the dark places of the city. He tugged at his beard and shook his head, then opened up the way and stepped in, trying to put on something more like a solemn expression rather than the appearance of faint apprehension. He spotted his companions right away (along with some more luggage he figured) and moved towards them, darting his eyes around to give the humans a suspicious look before leaning in towards Dvarim.

"I am going to sleep. We must be away long before sunrise, and as quickly and secretly as possible," he hissed in Khuzdul, casting another glance at the men, "Let's hope we haven't invited all the three kingdoms along with us by morning." While perhaps it was intended at a sleight to the two newcomers, there was something in his voice that indicated that it might be something more sinister. He nodded to each dwarf around the table (except Froli) and then turned on his heel to make way towards their lodging for the rest of the night.
 
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