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The Stumbling Of Man Upon The Uttermost West.

Firawyn

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Jamie turned the corner to hear Truor telling the group, "We will head out early, let's all get some sleep."

He took his leave of Artos, and then followed Kastor to a bar. He waited about an hour, and then entered as wel. Where ever Kastor went, so did the elven presense. But no, Kastor could not have an ounce of elf blood, it had to be something else.

Jamie could smell out a werewolf. Jamie could smell out an elf. All that Kastor smelled like was a wet sea rat.

Jamie doned his hooded cloak, hiding his face from anyone in the bar. He saw Kastor sitting alone in a corner, one hand still holding a mug of ale, though he was fast asleep.

Jamie walked near to where Kastor was passed out, and in a low voice said, "I know you are somewhere near here, little elf. Come out of hiding, I can sense you wish you speak to me. If you want my attention, you have it, and if you want to speak, leave your master for a little bit and meet me at the fountian in the town square, at midnight. That gives you an hour to decide."

With that said, Jamie whipped around and strode out of the bar. When out in the open again, he looked to the sky. The moon was nearly full, only a few more days. His own anxiousness was creeping about inside him. While the moon really couldn't affect him, years of living among those who were had taken it's toll. Jamie saw a barrel near to a ledge, that would pull him onto a rooftop, and he made his way to it. In a moment he was above the streets and any people who lingered there. He sat cross legged there, just staring at the moon for the next hour until it was time to go see if someone would be waiting for him at the fountian.
 
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chrysophalax

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Things appeared to be going from bad to worse in Artos' estimation. Not only was Brandor now suspicious of him and his motives, but now this Jamie had hied himself off to the Valar knew where without so much as a word.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour at this point, he sat down under a tree at the side of the road where he and Serra could hopefully keep an eye on the disorganised group and maybe get a little sleep while the she-wolf kept watch.

Stretching his long legs wearily, he reflected on recent events. In one short night he had found his prey,then turned coat and betrayed the man who had hired to kill the boy. Met a man who, for some reason, wanted his friendship and alienated the boy he now wished to defend. Well done, Wolfhame he thought as he scrubbed his face with a filthy hand.

Artos wrinkled his nose, then sighed heavily. It had been only two weeks since he had taken Horatio's commission. he man had seen to it that he had plenty of supplies, anything he could have asked for, in fact in order to achieve his goal. He had refused most of what had been offered, but not the food...and not the chains. He tried not to think about them.

No, what I need to think on most is why the boy has surrounded himself with such a motley band of miscreants. Dwarves, a old sailor, a...what was that thing anyway? he wondered as he thought of the thing that looked like something one would see in Rohan, or in the hills of the wild men. And the other. Artos had never seen a man who resembled a lizard in his manner as this one. It made the wolf-trainer's skin crawl to recall him.

It was more than obvious that Brandor had something specific in mind, a certain destination perhaps. Horatio had told Artos that Brandor had gone in search of his missing father and a cold feeling of foreboding crept over him the more he thought.

Valar, when Horatio discovers I've betrayed him, my life wil be worth less than nothing...and he will set something far more vicious than myself to do his dirty work. What have I done?
 
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Narya

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Nin couldn’t keep still inside the pocket of Kastor’s coat. There was too much sensation emanating from the elf Jamie that Nin could not concentrate on keeping still and secret. She went back to Kastor’s nape, looking out longingly through the thick auburn curtain that was Kastor’s hair.

"We will head out early, let's all get some sleep."

Kastor still felt uneasy around the newcomers, but he realized that if Artos intended to kill them he wouldn’t waste time haggling to tag along with their troupe. Why go with Brandor was a question he wanted to ask every single one of those who had joined in. There wasn't enough money involved, no treasure to be found.

"It's a rescue mission," he said to himself, "a suicidal rescue mission, and all of these fools volunteer to join." The boy had the charm of Doran. "Hopefully he won't have the same luck as his father."

As the others took their leave and headed off to sleep one by one, Kastor decided to go out and scout the area, trusting Brandor to Truor. Nin kept poking his neck with her dagger, pleading that he remained with the elf. But Kastor was adamant to leave the bakery. It was stifling inside and he hated the smell of pastries in the evening.

He found a bar not far from the bakery and decided to go in and check the crowd. It wasn’t rowdy, just a few folks scattered here and there, most of them too drunk to think.

“Must be very potent ale,” Kastor thought. He went to the bar and the bartender, who was a small and stout man, with bright red cheeks, came and greeted him warmly.

“Hullo! My name is Porto. Can I interest you with our special stew?” asked the bartender. “It is really delicious—puts a lot of comfort in your belly!”

“I’m sure it does,” said Kastor, “but at the moment, I am more interested in what has made all these people so drunk.”

The bartender looked around and grunted. “I’ve warned them about the ale.”

“What kind of ale do you serve here?”

“Dwimberg Red Ale!” announced the bartender, and a few heads turned up—lots of gargling sounds were heard, none were intelligible.

“Never heard of it.”

“Would you like to try it?”

“Of course!” Kastor exclaimed. “You don’t have to ask a sailor if he wants ale or not, there’s a good man!”

Porto smirked and prepared the drink, and then handed a pint to Kastor. It was, indeed, red and quite thick, and it had a caramel scent. Kastor took a swig of the red ale and the liquid made his throat tingle and burn a bit. It had a sweet aftertaste, and the scent of caramel stayed in the mouth long after the liquid hit his stomach.

Soon, the pint was empty, and Kastor asked for another, and then another, and then he was out like a light.


***

Nin was feeling exceptionally frustrated with Kastor that night. She had been stabbing him with her dagger (though she removed the poison from it first) until the skin on his nape became swollen. Kastor was ignoring her—something she had always hated because it reminded her of her size.

Go back!” she ordered. “Go back! Go back! Kastor! Go back and ask him where he’s from! Go back!”

Eventually, she gave up and went back to the confines of Kastor’s pocket. After a while, she smelled something in the air—the scent of the White Mountains! She realized that people still went to Dwimorberg for the red barley that only grew in that area. Then she heard the bartender call it Dwimberg Red Ale.

How original!”

Then she felt something—someone—Jamie, the elf, was close by. She wanted to go up and warn Kastor, but then she heard his head hit the wood of the bar and knew that he had passed out in his drunkenness.

Foolish human!”

Then someone spoke—not to Kastor, but to her.

"I know you are somewhere near here, little elf. Come out of hiding, I can sense you wish to speak to me. If you want my attention, you have it, and if you want to speak, leave your master for a little bit and meet me at the fountain in the town square, at midnight. That gives you an hour to decide."

The invitation was both perilous and exhilarating and Nin did not know how to address both. Jamie had left, judging by the ebbing elvish scent that followed him. Nin scrambled up Kastor’s neck.

Kastor!” But the sailor was snoring loudly. “Blast!”

She went back to the pocket and thought about the invitation. She had never been forced to reveal herself by anyone, not even Kastor, and she trusted no one after her people were betrayed by the one human they all trusted with their lives. Kastor had rescued her and so she trusted him, but no one else was able to gain that trust from her again.

He is an elf,” she said to no one in particular. “He and I share the same blood; but he has had dealings with treacherous humans!” Then the longing brought upon by many years of solitude was making all her fears seem irrelevant, and soon the thought of speaking with Jamie alone became irresistible to her. “I will go. If Kastor is too drunk to pay attention to my needs, then I have to look out for it on my own.”

She slowly, and very nimbly, descended down to the floor, using the creases and folds of Kastor’s long coat as a ladder. Finally, she was on the floor. She felt very vulnerable after taking a few steps away from Kastor and half her mind commanded her to go back. However, Jamie was waiting for her in the fountain—‘I mustn’t keep him waiting’.
 
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YayGollum

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When a servant from Doran's estate delivered the summons to Dingo's shop, and after they talked for a bit, causing Dingo to promise a surprise for the guy's sweetheart, the old werewolf pondered. Doran still hadn't returned. After listening to Kastor and socializing with most of the other crew members, he hadn't really expected him to come back, but he had hoped that Horatio could show a bit more patience. Everyone knew that Horatio was the shrewd businessman of the family, famously paranoid, and frightfully stubborn, but most just thought of him as a banker, very efficient and easily taken for granted. Dingo knew to tread lightly.

He waved a farewell to the servant at the door, then sighed, stretched, and cleared his mind. Horatio was about as patient as a human could be, and very careful. Through the years, evidence sprang up of shadier deals unknown to Doran, who never stayed at home for long. Never one to ignore what could be a powerful enemy, Dingo investigated. Ever since finding out how much Horatio knew about the nonhuman underworld and how unsavory most of his contacts in it were, he made a lot more noise about his business and made as many friends as he could. He got the attention of some nonhumans, too, and had them spread over the city. He knew that some of Horatio's underlings had caught wind of his information gathering, had even attempted to send him a couple of requests and threats, but Dingo had no problem with mercilessly cutting off any definite traces to him. Could he have missed something? If Horatio wanted him dead, why the summons? He didn't seem the type to gloat first. Mere suspicions were an annoyance but easier to handle.

Dingo found himself standing in front of a display of lace gloves and wondered why he was there. Shaking his head with annoyance, he grabbed a pair and started hunting for a nice box. Who knows? Horatio might just need a new jacket. Armed with his gift and headed for Doran's mansion, he loosed a predatory smile. Life was always interesting, but Dingo still missed the days of Morgoth's reign.
 

Firawyn

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When midnight came, Jamie jumped off the roof with ease, and onto the dirt road below. He then made for the fountian in the middle of the town square, where he was not surprised to find the area deserted.

Appearently deserted. Jamie thought to himself. "Come out little elf, I know you're there."

Suddenly, a green face, no bigger than small apple, appeared from behind the fountian. Jamie would not have believed his eyes, did he not sence that strong elven presence coming from the figure.

Jamie nodded. "I'm Jamie, but you already knew that I deem. You are?"

The small creature piped up. "I'm Nin."

"You're a female?"

"Yes." Nin said. "Small, but still female. Better small than dead, though. I would be dead without Kastor. He saved me."

"Saved you from what?" Jamie inquired.

"From the sorcerer that shrunk me," Nin answered. "Now what about you? What are you truly? I sense more than Elf, and more than man, as you claim. What else is in your blood that you are trying to hide."

Jamie looked at his feet. "I was raised by werewoves, and while being among them I was scarred." He lifed his shirt to reveal a long grusome scar that went from his neck to his belly button. "My foster brother did that, while the moon was full. He never bit me, so I am not truly a werewolf, but his tainted blood not runs in my vains. Like I could sense you, an elfkind, I can sense a werewolf."

Nin nodded, now understanding more about Jamie, but said nothing.

"I wonder," Jamie said. "What would it take for you to leave Kastor, and join me?"

Nin gaped at him. The idea of leaving Kastor was unthinkable!

"We belong together, Nin. We are the last of our kind."
 

Narya

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The fountain was the best spot for hiding, Nin thought. She had made her way there, unnoticed, and stayed in the camouflage of the mossy statue. Being green had benefits. Then the sensation that filled her with both dread and desire came back and she knew he was there. And then he spoke.

"Come out little elf, I know you're there." Nin peered through the cascading water and looked at him. Jamie nodded. "I'm Jamie, but you already knew that I deem. You are?"

"I'm Nin."

"You're a female?"

"Yes," Nin said, feeling a tad bit insulted by the question, "small, but still female.” She waded into the water, her eyes never leaving his beautiful face. “Better small than dead, though; I would be dead without Kastor. He saved me."

"Saved you from what?"

"From the sorcerer that shrunk me. Now what about you? What are you, truly? I sense more than Elf and more than man, as you claim. What else is in your blood that you are trying to hide?"

"I was raised by werewolves, and while being among them I was scarred. My foster brother did that, while the moon was full. He never bit me, so I am not truly a werewolf, but his tainted blood now runs in my veins. Like I could sense you, an elfkind, I can sense a werewolf."

‘Werewolves,’ Nin said to herself. She has had very little experience with the creatures that mutate when the moon was in full, but she wasn’t ignorant of their wiles. She knew the danger of mingling with such unintelligible creatures whose appetite for flesh increase in ferocity, to the point of insanity, when the Moon was high in the sky. Even if he had not been completely turned, he was still stained by their blood. She cringed at the thought.

"I wonder," Jamie said; "what would it take for you to leave Kastor, and join me?"

Nin looked at him with horrified eyes. Leaving Kastor was something that she had considered doing before, but after being with him for years, she had grown attached to the old man. He was like a son to her, and leaving him for anyone—even for this half-bred elf—was unthinkable.

"We belong together, Nin. We are the last of our kind."

Nin’s heart sank and then it began to fill with doubt. Why would Jamie ask her to leave Kastor? He knew too little of her to decide she belonged to him. He knew too little to claim her friendship. There was a sense of affinity between them and it was still filling her body with sensations she had missed for so long, but after his revelations that affinity had diminished, and it was continuously ebbing. Learning the truth was sometimes… unhelpful.

I am the last of my kind,” Nin corrected him. “You—are something else.” She decided that she had been disillusioned by him. “How could you ask me to abandon him? I have told you of his deed—he is the reason I exist! To leave him is treachery beyond words, yet you suggest it so nonchalantly. You want me to go with you… where?” She went back behind the curtain of water, feeling the coldness blanketing her body like ice.

“Nin.”

She hissed at him and peered through the cascading water again. “Kastor will know of this rendezvous and he will confront you, but he will never betray me to anyone as I have betrayed myself.” Her voice dropped to nearly a whisper. “I thought you are going to be my salvation, but I fear you’ll be the death of me, Jamie. Is that even your Elven name? Or have you adopted the one given to you by the Werewolves?”
 

chrysophalax

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A discreet knock on the library door made Horatio glance up. "Yes?" "Dingo the tailor to see you, my lord. He says he has something that might interest you. Shall I let him in?"

"Give me a moment, Thomas." Horatio replied and he began to gather stray papers and ledgers together into orderly piles. He had spent most of the last two days sifting through his brother's books and he sensed he was getting close to discovering the source of his disquiet. Doran had been hiding something from him, something of significance and it rankled.

He had never given his foolish elder brother any reason to suspect him of anything. The fact that he had diverted some of Doran's funds for his own benefit hadn't mattered and they had both benefitted from Horatio's surrepitous dealings. Now he felt a ernewed sense of injustice and it ate at him like a tumor.

Seating himself in the deep dragon leather chair behind Doran's desk, he poured himself a drink from an exquisitely carved carafe and was enjoying the play of candlelight on its facets when Dingo was announced.

"My lord Horatio." "Dingo, you old dog. Did Thomas let let you know we were having lobster fresh from Dol Amroth for dinner this evening?"

The tall, dour man gave a weak smile and walked soundlessly toward him bearing a beautifully wrapped package. "Nay, my lord. Thomas was as tight-lipped as ever." Carefully he set the package down before Horatio and let him inspect the cloth of gold wrapping.

Curious, Horatio ran his hand over the wrapping in appreciation. "What is this? More of your cast-offs??" Wounded, Dingo glanced down at Horatio and made to pick the gift up, but Horatio stayed his hand. "No, no...you have me curious now. Open it and satisfy my inquisitive nature. Go on!"

Dingo wasted no time and before long and a pair of black lace gloves and a prefectly tailored black wool coat with a collar of silver fox lay spread out on the desk for Horatio's perusal. The tailor watched with pride as Horatio's hand ran over the collar, then held up the coat to admire it. "Wonderful work, as always. my old friend..now tell me...what do you know about Doran's secret books?"
 
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YayGollum

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Dingo paused with surprise, hoping that it covered up his relief. To himself ---> "Oh, is that all? So he's just a greedy opportunist, then!" He gave a little bob of the head for a bow, formed an embarrassed smirk, and said, "Ah, you are sharper than you look! My apologies, but why would I know about something like that?" He made as if to find a chair and sniffed at not being invited into one.

Horatio waved Dingo to the seat he had been eyeing forlornly. "Tell me, Dingo, how long have you known me? More to the point, how long have you known my brother?"

"I have had the pleasure of serving your family since before you were born, as you know. Your tastes are quite similar to your mother's, actually." He lobbed a wistful smile at the ceiling, as if he were reminiscing, but he quickly shook himself out of it and placed his chin in his hand, to assist his memory. "Secret books, though? You were always the more secretive one, if I remember correctly. Is there anything in particular you were looking for? Doran was always telling stories. I may remember something you need."

"I've been poring over his journals and ship's logs and it seems to me that there's something missing from one of his adventures about 10 years ago." Here he fixed Dingo with a baleful stare. "A voyage which you may have had knowledge of, if I'm not mistaken. Many times when he was in his cups, I would here him mumble something about a fabulous jewel he was on the trail of, then after that voyage, he spoke of it no more. Tell me, old friend, did he find it?"

Dingo relaxed a bit in his chair, sure that Horatio wasn't onto anything too drastic yet. "Hmmm... A fabulous jewel, you say? I may remember this tale, but I doubt that he wrote of it. Did you know that your brother painted? He never took the time to perfect his talent, but he left many secrets in his art." He sighed then gave Horatio a curious look. "Ah, I tried to encourage him, but he was a bit embarrassed about his attempts. I have two of his paintings. One is of an island, apparently made of gold. The other shows a dark forest overlooking cliffs and a stormy sea. There are some details that I'm leaving out, of course. You really should see them for yourself. I'm certain that Kastor and others Doran was acquainted with have more examples, if you'd like to check on them."

"Kastor?" Horatio ground his teeth at the hated name. "You mean the man who has encouraged my nephew in this foolhardy venture? Why would he...?" Falling silent in mid-thought, Horatio steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair. "Join us for dinner. It appears we have much to discuss, and I am not the only interested party." Dingo made as if to excuse himself, but Horatio interrupted him. "This is not exactly a request. Shall we join Thomas downstairs?"
 

Firawyn

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“Kastor will know of this rendezvous and he will confront you, but he will never betray me to anyone as I have betrayed myself.” Her voice dropped to nearly a whisper. “I thought you are going to be my salvation, but I fear you’ll be the death of me, Jamie. Is that even your Elven name? Or have you adopted the one given to you by the Werewolves?”

Jamie made a groan that almost sounded like a growl, and it was then that Nin noticed that the moon was full tonight.

"I do not wish you harm, little one. Forgive my hasty words." Jamie pleaded. "I did not consider your feelings towards Kastor. That was wrong of me."

Jamie paused, hoping the glare would leave Nin's pretty eyes. It did not.

"Jamie was the name my human father gave me, and what I like to go by. My mother called me Ennald. The wolves called me the 'son-of-a-man', which was not exactly a kindness. Only my foster father called me by my true wolf name, and only after my foster brother scarred me. To the wolves, when not being cursed, I am Fenris."

"Is there anything else you wish to know?" Jamie inquired. "I beg of you, don't report this to Kastor. I only wanted to meet you, so to know you, and perhaps I got carried away. It's been so long since anyone looked at me kindly, as you did...at first."

Jamie's eyes looked sad, as he waited for Nin too speak.
 

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Nin considered his plea and, satisfied of his sincerity, she replied, "Aye. Kastor shall not know of this meeting. I will call you by your elven name, Ennald. Let the others address you as they please." She walked passed the curtain of water again, allowing the light of the moon to shine on her small face. "For me, it is perhaps the desire to know that I am not alone in this world that has drawn me to you so ardently."

She skipped over the water and unto the mouth of the fountain and reached out a hand, touching the half-bred elf's hand slightly. He was elven, and yet not elven at the same time.

"Perhaps, in time we shall both find out who we truly are," she said, "and where we truly belong to." Then she jumped down to the cobble-stone road and ran with all haste back to the pub. But before she disappeared completely, she cried back to the elf. "Le Hannon, Ennald." (Thank you, Ennald.)

He replied, "Le hannon a tholel, Mellon." (Thank you for coming, friend.)

She smiled in her heart and then turned and ran back to Kastor. She found him still slumped on the counter, sleeping and snoring loudly. She climbed back up his pocket and for the first time in a long while found it comfortable enough to sleep.
 

YayGollum

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On the river, a couple of night shift workers were unloading a boat. The younger one, a barrel-chested bear of a man, smirked when he saw a small and heavily-cloaked figure waving at them. He dropped the load he'd been carrying and gave a wave to indicate that the guy should leave. "Clear off! We don't have time for you. Got work to do."

The little guy looked like he was searching through pockets under his cloak for a while, then he swept his hood off, lazily picked at his teeth, and seemingly pulled a scroll out of his mouth. He winked at the big guy but headed for his older companion, who was eyeing him suspiciously. He handed the scroll over, nodded at the crest on their boat, and drawled, "So we work for the same guy. I've got a more important job for you. Don't even worry about it. As you can see, you'll be well paid. Come on."

Before the older guy was finished reading the scroll, the little guy put his hood back on and strode away. "Who's he think he is? Why, what's it say?"

The older guy gulped and looked at his companion nervously. "He works for the big boss! Yeah, we'll get paid well, but we'll have to do whatever he says, or else!"

The two trotted after the cloaked figure and ended up in an alley filled with the smell of charred flesh, a pile of smoldering bits that might have been charred flesh and clothes, and a bit of blood around the edges of the blackened area. The little guy picked at his teeth again. "You guys have clean-up crews, right?"

The older guy nodded dumbly and contemplated the pile. The younger guy backed out of the alley, disgusted and horrified. "W-What happened in here?"

The little guy just grinned as the other shushed him, then fixed their dubious benefactor with a glare. "We'll clean it up. Don't worry. But you'd better get out of the city fast. We aren't really used to-"

The little guy interrupted with, "Yeah, yeah. I'm leaving tomorrow. Hey, think you can send this letter for me, too? Gotta report to the boss, you know." He produced a letter and snatched the scroll back.

He interrupted the guy again as he was telling the younger one what they'd need. "You really don't do this often? Big city like this? Ah, well. Things'll pick up, I'm sure. By the way, know any magicians? Or have any passed through recently?" He explained, after only getting looks of confusion. "Oh, you know. Little girl. I love little girls, don't you? She wanted me to do the trick sword thing. I'm mostly a juggler and fire-breather, as you can see, but if that's what's popular, I could use one of those swords."
 

Firawyn

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Jamie walked away from the fountain with a smile. Ennald, oh how long it had been since he'd been called that beautiful name!

His thoughts turned to Artos, who he was sure was still angry with him. Jamie wanted to work with him. He, like Nin, was a fellow outcast. There was a certain irony in socializing with 'fellow outcasts', as to be an outcast was to be alone.

Like to bear a Ring of Power was to be alone - but that was a long time ago.

Jamie returned to his spot on the rooftop, in the glow of the moon. He had never gotten violent in the light of the full moon like a werewolf, but then again, when the moon was full he did all in his power to not be among other people. It was moments like this that he missed Silme.

Silme, the elf who taught him all he knew about his own past. He hadn't understood how she knew so much about him until years later, when she reviled that she was his sister, through their mother. Unlike him, she was a pureblooded elf. She remained hidden, still, unknown to any on middle earth.

Little Nin had alot to learn if she thought that she was the last of the pure blooded elf kind. Not many remained, this was true, but Silme wasn't the only elf in hiding of Jamie's knowlage.
 

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Kastor and Nandreeson said that they would be out, and Truor stomped off to make his own preparations, so Brandor decided to head back to the inn. He had lost his enthusiasm for sight-seeing after meeting the pair of assassins and said that he'd go to bed early. Narvi stood near his bed and waited for Brandor to relieve himself. "Do you think that my father would be proud of me?"

Narvi sighed. "He would, I believe, as usual. You are very much alike."

A beat. "Why, are you not?"

A heavier sigh, mixed with a growl. "Of course not! You are both fools! Why did you let them go? They could easily reconsider. Either way, they had valuable information about your uncle. You should not have just dismissed them."

Brandor sat up in bed and examined his friend. The living statue stood as stolidly as ever, staring at the door. "Are you angry with me? I can't tell."

Narvi blinked and turned his head to display an annoyed but concerned expression. "I am, but there is little to be done. Sleep. Your father has less excuse than you. You are still very young."

After smiling with relief, he defiantly informed, "Well, I won't be looking for those two anytime soon. Father was the one who taught me to forgive, and I can't do that yet."

Narvi just nodded and turned back to the door. Half of him admired the young man's idealism, while the other snarled at the idea of forgiving an obvious enemy. Brandor fell asleep before Kastor came back, apparently drunk. Narvi stood watch, and, as the sun rose, he closed his eyes and wondered why it should matter that his stone eyelids were open or closed. How could stone see, anyway?

"This is the one? Well, why are they just sitting around?" Narvi opened his eyes and frowned as Truor slammed the door open and dragged Nandreeson after him. "Time to go! I found your clown outside earning his bread already. The rest of you are just lazy. You already have a wagon, right?"
 

chrysophalax

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Irritated by inaction, Artos rose and stretched, his night spent napping under the tree serving only to give him a crick in his neck. He winced, rubbing at the sore spot. Where is everone? he wondered as he made his way in the last direction he had seen the others take.

As he walked, he mused over Brandor's reaction to himself and Jamie. At first he had seemed open, welcoming even, but then Jamie seemed to rub him the wrong way and the boy had withdrawn sullenly. What had caused that? Con cern mixed with annoyance casued him to frown in cincentration. He had to find Brandor and try to make it right with him, if only to spite Horatio.

His thoughts turned next to the cause of the problem. Jamie. The man was a mystery, popping up out of nowhere causing trouble. Artos wondered what he had done wrong in his life to have so many things go wrong in it. Ah, well...at least Serra hasn't turned on me yet. That's something!

As he approached the inn, he saw a waggon pulled up at the side and the bustle of early morning preparations from within. Artos called Serra to him and told her to go inside and see what was happening. He himself felt far from welcome just now and decided that discretion would serve him better just now than direct confrontation.
 

Firawyn

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Morning dawned, and Jamie woke to find himself still on the rooftop he'd withdrawn to after his encounter with Nin. Oh he'd barley gotten out of that one with dignity, he recalled now. Just like with Artos.

Damn! Jamie cursed himself. He was not a people person. It's not that he didn't like being around people, he just had a tendency to offend them, and through that alienate himself. People rarely gave him a second change, not that he deserved it, really. He gave an image of confidence, but inside he trembled to be around people. This was very likely a piece of werewolf inside of him. Jamie almost growled at the very point.

Jamie jumped off the rooftop, hitting the ground lightly - the elf in him of course. He found himself on an almost lonely street. To his surprise, he saw Artos standing in the shadows near the entrance of an Inn, sending Serra inside to investigate.

Jamie walked towards Artos, not even quite sure what he was going to say.
 

Ghorim

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“Let’s talk shop, shall we?”

This was the night before the group shoved off from the Vale. The night before, with Barulin stretched out on one of the three beds in the room he had rented out all to himself. It was the middle bed, the only one without some sort of unidentifiable stain on it.

The dwarf lounged with the air of a contented cat: mostly bored with his surroundings, but still host to a dormant ferocity and power. Glauer, wisely, tried to keep as much distance between the two of them as possible. He clung to the far wall, his right shoulder shoved against a hulking wardrobe cupboard nearly twice his size. The mousy fellow seemed ready to climb right in.

“Shop?” Glauer attempted a light-hearted grin, but the expression grew muddled with anxiety.

“Shop. I want to hear your thoughts about these new traveling companions of ours.”

Barulin was busying himself with a small block of firewood and a paring knife, slowly whittling away flecks of bark that fell to rest in the dark curls of his beard. He halved his attention between Glauer and the emerging sculpture that he held in his hands.

A shout from outside the window drew Glauer’s harried glance. Just a drunk calling out one of his old mates, but enough to push the dwarf's nerves one inch closer to shattering. He looked back to Barulin, who hadn’t seemed to notice.

“Eh... what are their names again? I didn’t get a good look at either one, I’m afraid.”

“Aye... I thought as much.” Barulin gave an emphatic stroke with his knife, which produced a sharp slicing noise to fill the silence. “You were much too engaged with that honey cake of yours to take proper note of your surroundings.”

Glauer cringed a bit, stroking his beard out of nervous habit. A few errant honey cake crumbs went tumbling to the floor, unnoticed.

“Artos. Jamie. Ridiculous names, I know, but so are the ones that we must carry in human company.” Barulin finally gave Glauer a quick look, and in that fleeting instant tied the other dwarf’s stomach into a constricting knot. “So... how much do you trust them?”

“Trust them?”

“Stop repeating my questions back at me.”

“Sorry... eh... it’s just hard to say, really, how much you trust someone. It depends on the situation, I suppose...”

“All right, then. I’ll make things simple. On a scale of one to ten, how much do you trust each of them? 'One' meaning you wouldn’t so much as turn your back in their presence, 'ten' meaning you’d gladly share a brew with them and spill your whole life’s story?”

“Oh.” Silence. “Well... Jamie... his ears have a bit of a point, don’t they?”

“I noticed that as well. He also came straight out and named himself half-Elven, in case you hadn’t been listening. So... what’s your number on him?”

“I suppose... a four, perhaps? He seems rather talkative and forthcoming... and Elves, annoying as they may be, don’t have a predilection towards deceit...” Glauer halted his speech and looked to Barulin for some show of approval.

The knife continued to caress the wood with steely patience. Barulin did not look up. “Artos.”

“Artos?”

Barulin pointed the knife straight at Glauer’s chest from across the room, a feral burst in his eyes. “What did I tell you about repeating my words?”

“M-m-my deepest apologies!” Glauer bowed in an impromptu display of embarrassment. “I...well... that one I cannot trust in the least... there is an air about him... I cannot say, exactly. But... no, I must give him a one.”

“But did you not hear him?” Barulin lowered his implements for a moment, looking surprised. “He pledged his life to Brandor’s quest. He has cast his deceit aside and sworn himself toward good, don’t you think?”

“Well... that is true! Perhaps a... six is more in order for him.”

Barulin smirked and turned his attention back to his project. Glauer, thinking he had just survived a terrible interrogation, plummeted down into one of the two chairs that flanked the room’s little table. His breath was heavy. Somehow, courage and inspiration both struck him at once, and he glanced to Barulin.

“What numbers would you give them?”

The other dwarf gave another peek up from his labors, flashing an annoyed scowl. “Ones to both, of course.”

Glauer hopped to his feet in shock. “But you just said...”

“I say a lot of things, unfortunately.” Barulin eyed a slight miscue in his carving, and set to correcting it, not looking up. “But trust is too valuable a thing to just hand away upon first meeting. These strangers must earn mine, one point at a time, and I suggest you adopt a similar policy.”

“And you? What am I supposed to make of you, then?” Glauer brandished one of his long, bony, tinkerer’s fingers in Barulin’s direction, his nearsighted eyes squinting in the dimming light.

“Glauer...” Barulin placed both the knife and woodcarving on his bedside table, brushing away the wood peelings from his beard as he did. “We are kin. In the world of Men, who else can we trust?”

The accusing finger and its companions fell back to Glauer’s side. The dwarf slouched and rubbed at one of his eyes. “Well... your point is made.”

“Get some sleep, then.” Barulin motioned to each of the other two beds. “Just avoid the stains, if you can.” He turned to his right, eyeing the candle that lit most of the room. With one gale gust of breath, it was extinguished.

---

Both dwarves joined the party’s lineup in the hallway the next morning. As usual, they were generally ignored. But the sailor Kastor, clearly haunted by spirits from the night before, turned a baleful eye on Barulin.

“And I suppose you are joining our merry band as well?”

Barulin shrugged, not bothering to return the gaze. His leather hood was pulled quite low, almost obscuring his eyes. “So long as you and the rest don’t revolt against my presence.”

“And to what purpose do you plan to serve?”

“This one’s bodyguard.” Barulin clamped one of his broad hands onto Glauer’s right shoulder, and shook the sleepy fellow from head to toe.

“Wonderful...” Kastor glanced up and down the growing group, making a silent count in his head and seeming rather displeased with the result.

“Well... if we are indeed going out to sea, it ought to help to have a healthy number of crew members.” This helpful bit of wisdom came from the mouth of Glauer.

“What do you know of the sea, dwarf?” Now Kastor turned to the tinkerer.

“Eh...”

“Well,” Barulin cut in here. “It is vicious. And uncaring. That is all anyone need know.”

The conversation might have continued further here, but Truor was already marching about, yelling in their ears. They were off, the lot of them. While a wolf made its first tentative sniffs at the inn’s front door, Barulin and Glauer trudged for the main stairwell.
 

chrysophalax

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"About time you showed up. What were you playing at, lounging about on rooftops and then disappearing. Think I wouldn't notice? Valar, Jamie, what sort of companion are you? What if the inn had been attacked and burned to the ground?"

Artos wasn't in the habit of berating perfect strangers, but this man had said he wanted to travel with him, become his friend of all things. In his opinion, this wasn't the way to begin a working relationship!

"Good morning to you too, Wolfhame! Are you always this cheerful at first light?" replied Jamie with a crooked grin on his face.

"No, most times I'm in a bad mood. Now go in and..." The scruffy old man named Truor barrelled out the door, shoved Artos aside and fixed him momentarily with a jaundiced eye before bawling for someone to bring the waggon around front. Serra soon followed looking slightly cowed. Crouching down next to her, Artos ruffled her fur, he listened as she wuffed softly in his ear.

There are two dwarves and the others we have already seen. There is also one that smells like a lizard. I do not trust him, Father. And the boy seems to be depressed by all accounts. She glared at Jamie. It seems to be his fault.

Thanking her with a scratch on her ruff, he stood and glowered at Jamie. "She says you've annoyed Brandor somehow. We can only hope he will allow us to still join his merry band, because I hate having to trail after people for their own good." He sighed loudly. "I suppose I'll have to see what I can do to mend the situation. Come on if you're coming."
 

Firawyn

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"She says you've annoyed Brandor somehow. We can only hope he will allow us to still join his merry band, because I hate having to trail after people for their own good." Artos sighed loudly. "I suppose I'll have to see what I can do to mend the situation. Come on if you're coming."

"I can hear her just as you can," Jamie muttered inaudibly. He followed Artos, trying very hard not to sulk. But that was how he felt, like a sulking dog following an unworthy master. All the same, Jamie kept his chin up, knowing that sulking would put Artos right back in a foul mood, and it would bring them to a worse end than the end for which they were already heading.

Suddenly, Serra fell back to where he walked behind Artos. There's more wolf in you than you think, if you understand my speech, she woofed quietly.

"I know," Jamie replied sullenly.

How about the full truth of what you are? Serra asked.Jamie looked away.

So how much of a werewolf are you? Serra persisted.

"What I said was true. I was only scratched, not bitten. But what I didn't tell was that, years later I would discover that my birth father was bitten. He did not tell my mother, and they lay together that night. By morning he was gone one a trial of vengeance, hunting down and killing all the werewolves he could find. When he returned, I had been born, and he had changed over. I have a little wolf blood in me from this and that, like a festering wound that has no chance of healing. I become more wolf-like with each passing year - and with an immortal life, I weary to think of what an age of festering will turn me into. I lay with no woman in fear of what I might do to her. I make no companions save those I can do no real harm to, like Artos."

I think perhaps your elf-blood holds the infection at bay to an extent. Serra mused.

"I think so as well," Jamie concurred.

But what motivates you to join this caravan?

"I want to do something to help someone, to amend for my crimes." Jamie answered. "And if death finds me in that process, I would not be sorry. I have no want for immortality."

But it is your immortal elf blood that has kept you thus far from ruin. Serra said pointedly.

"Serra!" Artos called.

Serra took one last look at Jamie. Do not think that I trust you, Fenris, but I no longer doubt your tale or your motives.

With that, the wolf pranced forward to catch up with Artos. Jamie quickened his own pace so not to fall behind.

"You took my company, Artos." Jamie called.

Artos looked sour. "She's not yours."

"She's a free being, so not yours either."

Artos grunted. "May be, may be."
 
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chrysophalax

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Artos narrowed his eyes, which, for the few that knew him was never a good sign.

"Are you deaf, or just rude? I asked you some questions I'd like the answers to." He ran his fingers through his hair, exasperated. "How am I supposed to just accept what you say when you run off like that?"

The others in Brandor's group were stirring now, talking, arguing, grabbing bites of early morning bread as they waited for everyone to assemble. Artos had hoped for a quiet word with the boy, but that didn't look like happening now.

With nothing to do now but wait, Wolfhame stalked over to watch as one of the inn's lackeys was struggling to hitch the group's waggon to a horse who had seen better days and with a temper like a badger, judging from the number of times the lad dodged the horse's large yellow teeth.

"You see that?" he asked no one in particular, "That horse wants nothing more than to be left alone to do whatever it is horses do. I can honestly say, I know how he feels, poor devil...Hey! Boy!" Artos dug in his pockets a retrieved a withered apple with only one bite out of it. "Catch! And stop calling him names!"

"So you do have a heart."

"Just shut up and answer my questions."
 

Firawyn

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Jamie sighed. Structured inquiry and social expectations were not among his lessons learned in life. "I am sorry. I was meeting a friend last night. I fell asleep on the roof quite by accident. Certainly I did not want a stiff back this morning. And attack? Come now Artos, that Inn has stood absently for who knows how long, I doubt it would burn to the ground now. Besides, if it had, Brandor and company are fitter than you or I, they could have managed without our aid. And furthermore, if you do not trust what I say, what is the point of me answering your questions?"

Artos face was unreadable. Perhaps he was angered by Jamie's sharp reply, perhaps he was satisfied with Jamie's aswers, or perhaps his mind lingered elsewhere. Eitherway, Jamie knew that they had to start getting along better, if any companionship was going to form.

"Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot." Jamie said quietly. "I can't go back in time and do over anything, anymore than you can. What must I...what must we do to better get along?"
 

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