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Eps1 The Phantom Menace


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#1 Sam

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 06:24 AM

Rayenne sighed. Worn, slender fingers curled about grey-streaked hair. Placing a stack of reports to one side, she lay back against the seat of the carriage, eyes bleary--fatigued. The discordant motion of the carriage had left the back of her neck aching; temples flaring. The journey was otherwise pleasant and Rayenne smiled a warm, if wearied smile.



Luis rode with an easy charm. One hand brushing the rein, the other manoeuvring a flask of whisky to his lips. His body rolled with the motions of his stead--a lazy meander. His longsword, often tapping against his hip, was tied with the rest of his belongings into a bundle behind his saddle. He would not need it for now. It was going to be a good day. Gared, his monolithic and silent companion kept an easy pace alongside him. They had been unable to find a mount large enough to carry his girth, instead he quietly drew a mule behind him. They were set to meet Rayenne, to whom they were currently employed. Acting as escorts and occasionally consults. It was going to be a good day.



It was a matter of inheritance. Spoiled, favoured Rayenne. Daughter to a strong and influential merchant. Half-sister to a jealous and spiteful brother. Coddled in luxury, extravegance and decadent wealth. How wonderful to be dotted on by a loving father. Never mind your brother, he would say. He will learn to accept it in time.

The relationship between brother and sister had always been strained. Despite this, Rayenne had always--while not agreeing on a great many things--trusted him. It wasn't as though he was to be disinherited. How could he begrudge his little sister for a judgement passed by father? Big brother was always so greedy!

She had woken in a cold, dark, place. Bare save for a low cot. Her mind swam, too naive to understand the clever use of narcotics. She felt no fear, no terror, only puzzlement. She was not in her home. She was not in her bed. She was in her nightclothes. There was a slight pressure on her wrists, bindings. There was a flicker--sudden light. Harsh murmurs. Laughter. Through fogged eyes she saw the exchange of money, a toothy grin. She was not alone. Hands. Touching her! The light disappeared, the door closed. A dull thud. The sound of tearing cloth. Fear. Terror...

She had fought. Violent retaliation. She had begged, pleaded. Fervent reassurances. She had cried. Mocking laughter. He had left and still she had cried. huddling beneath the bloodied sheets. Not understanding, not comprehending. Waiting for daddy to rescue her. He always had. He always would...

She had woken empty, stunned. In a state of shock she had been led down a flight of stairs, to a long bench, around which was seated many other girls. Some gazed with mirth. Others pity. Food had been placed in front of her, like an automaton she had eaten. Eyes unseeing. Mind numb. Thoughts broken. As she was broken.

Oh, she had learned the rules soon enough. They always did, those entering the "profession" by choice. Those conscripts starting their careers through less voluntary means. Eventually the struggles ceased. The tears dried up. All that remained was hollow resignation and hope. A faint and distant hope. Daddy...

The years passed. Rayenne aged. Hope dwindled. Acceptance came, and with it a sense of helplessness and shame. There were no doubts that she was treated well. They all were. What were things like pride and joy in exchange for lifeless steel? Her body. Her temple. Abused, desocrated, forgotten... until her father came.

She had been eating with the others in her customary position. He had entered, led by her brother. Her darling, loving, brother! Her heart soared, she felt new life surge through her veins. He had come, he had come! She would be free. She could go home! She stood, ran to embrace him. Her father. Her rescuer. The world exploded in a myriad of stars. She hit the ground. Felt the warm blood trickling down her cheek. Ah, but how that wound had paled in comparison! Her father. Her father had turned. Turned from his favoured, beloved daughter. His shoulders slumped, eyes filled with sorrow. Her brother shot a triumphant glance. A door had slammed. They had gone. Her hope, her future, blown out like a gust of wind. The window to her freedom closed and barred forever...

Tears ran down her face. She felt a warm, comforting hand against her cheek.

"It's okay", she whispered, "I'm okay."



Luis and Gared waited patiently for the carriage, passing a flask of whiskey freely between them. Theirs was an easy comraderie. Both had once been freelancing merceneries. It was said that they had met on the field of battle and the ensuing clash had been so violent, so devastating, such a stalemate that they had proclaimed themselves brothers of spirit and had worked together ever since. The truth of the rumour was unknown, they themselves neither comfirmed nor denied.

Luis had once followed in the proud military footsteps of his paterfamilias. Enlisting under the same nations banner, applying for the exact same regiment. So proud was the military tradition that it could be traced back at least half a dozen generations and Luis, like the males in his line before him, saw no greater honour than to leave his mark upon that auspicious record.

Unfortunately, his father had been less than honourable. A scandal had come to light, involving several affairs and various bastard children. This, in itself was not the cause of the stir. More the fact that some of those children were younger than Luis, while he himself had been born in wedlock. A wedlock, that insofar as all were concerned, was not broken at the time of the indescretions. Unable to bear the disgrace of his family name, Luis had deserted. Selling his services for coin, rather than a high sense of purpose.

Gared, on the other hand had earned his bread through the employment of his sheer brute strength. His early history unknown and with Gared unable to speak (Luis and Gared communicated through a series of highly complicated gestures. Including nods, frowns and head shaking), all that is known for certain is that he once travelled with a roving carnival. It is widely suspected that he became a mercenary for no other reason than indomitable boredom.

The carriage rolled into sight, stopping at the appointed location. Luis stepped forward, opening the door and offering a hand to the woman inside. Slender, calloused fingers gripped his as she stepped out of the carriage. Her hair, once a luxuious brown had become listless, greyed. Once vibrant eyes had lost their luster and were instead a flat, nondescript brown. Her face marked with premature age, harsh lines indicative of a hard, well weathered, life. Yet she walked with a feminine grace and occasionally conveyed the fact that she had once been beautiful.

Behind her came a small cherubic figure. Dressed in simple black cloth his bright and merry eyes shone a stark contrast to the woman's. In his plump little hands he carried a basket, containing several sandwhiches--most likely marmalade--and an apple. He gazed unblinking, seeing things best unrelated and thinking things that most would find highly distressing. Such as: if The Great Coconut delivered the world into the hands of his arch-nemesis the Moon Duck. Would he be swallowed before or after dinner and if he enjoyed it, could he do it again?

All he said, however, was, "blurp."



Rayenne stepped down from the carriage, her sharp eyes devouring the two men before her.

One was average height, well muscled with a slim build. He was a longsword at his hip and walked with a feline swagger. His hair was black, cropped short. His skin was lightly tanned and his light brown eyes were alight with a casual--if lethal--intelligence. The second figure, was a giant of a man. Standing an easy six and a half feet his girth was well that of three smaller men. Beneath his plain tunic and breeches powerful, corded muscles slithered like a very large dog chasing a very large cat over a very large wardrobe. A wardrobe that was very unwardrobe like in appearance. So unwardrobe like in appearance that one could be forgiven for saying it did not--in fact--resemble a wadrobe at all. But we know better. Don't we?

Rayenne smiled;

"Shall we, gentlemen?"

#2 Sam

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 08:56 PM

In the beginning, there was the seed. Or was it tree? No. No. I'm sure it was seed. Ah, well. In the beginning there was one of those two things. That is the important thing. Of course, various wars had sparked by peaceful contemplation of that very question. The end result usually amounting to whoever could bludgeon the other person quick enough being proclaimed wise and righteous. The bludgeoned, was invariably considered wrong. Wrong and dead. But mostly wrong. This practice was later developed into a sport (aptly named, "oof-ack-my-leg-my-leg!"), opening the way for many mind intensive games such as "Pin-the-Maul-On-the-Pinky", and, "Hey-Let's-Toss-That-Guy-Into-the-Fire-Pit."

The seed was bored. While floating on the endless ebb and flow of the nothing was thrilling, it lact a certain unquantifiable something. The seed knew, in his piths of piths, that he was a deity truly deserving adoration and worship. Why, even his giant elliptical form bespoke majesty. Witnesses often accounted that what it inspired was hunger. But witnesses are notoriously reliable and there was nothing left of the defendents other smoking gravel and birthday cards containing clever puns and wit referring to nutrient deficient soil and how may motes it took to change a lightbulb. (Incidentally one such card also contained not only the sum, but the various mathematical formulae harnessed to reach it... well, okay... so maybe not everyone can see the hilarity in hours of calculus.)

From the nothingness, the seed pulled forth the constellations. He would, after all, need appropriate lighting to showcase his good side. Next, he reached out and plucked the bones of the earth from the empty void. In a clear breach of higher power omiscience clause, The Seed constructed his vast and splendid world with such skill and care that he found himself quite thoroughly trapped inside. Now, if any of you have ever tried to push your way out of the bowls of a planet earth (hah. Hah. Really funny), you will know they are quite heavy and unless you really wish to be free--I mean *really*--it just isn't worth the buggery. Instead; the seed, in his divine wisdom, joined with his new creation. Spreading to the farthest reaches. (You don't think it is a conincidence that coconuts are prone to falling onto heads, do you? Well. I'll tell you right now. It bloody well isn't.)

Thus freed, The Great, now Coconut, breathed life into mankind and the animals of the earth. Women, The Great Coconut maintained, were his greatest joke ever, yet he stubbornly refused to share the punchline. For the next few millenia, The Great Coconut had kept himself busy with the merry occupation of launching from the palms of his many limbs. In the form of a very large, solid piece of fruit; bouncing off the skulls of his worshippers like a very aerodynamically challenged block of cement. Those who survived theh rigorous initiation--seldom occuring--became the Rodgin: the leaders of his parishes, the tenders of his gardens and the protectors of his people. Their guiding precept, "Gurff-garble-warble-blurp" translated roughly into, "be the coconut."

Certain "biological" needs began to press The Great Coconut and he once more dipped into the well of eternal nothingness and drew forth a mate. Giving her of his divine power, the puissance to construct her own temples; find her own followers. How did she repay him? Countless centuries of, "not tonight dear, I have a headache." Many of his subjects secretly questioned the inspiration behind the Great Coconut's mate--her physical appearance. But lets face it, there is no species within the bonds of reality that leaves more to laugh at while naked than humans. Not even a duck. What? Well it *is* true.

The next aeon was rife with turmoil and hardship. The desciples and worshippers of the two deities were not sure what boded worse for them: the violent, tempestuous marital spats or the violent and earth rending make up... well... the making up... part. Finally the end came. An argument so fierce that The Great Coconut trapped his beloved in the shape of a rock--called the moon. Now he circles in a vain but tireless effort to regain the can of peaches she keeps obstinately hiding behind her back! In time, with the two deities embroiled in their own, righteous conflict, they were forgotten by their creations and in time. Replaced.


#3 Sam

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Posted 08 April 2006 - 02:26 AM

Several things happend as Fenton Romasanta stepped down from the carriage. The first was that Luis took a hasty step backward. The second was that he unconsciously began to stroke the left side of his skull. At the same time, Gared was keenly aware of the teeth marks in his right ankle. By its own invitation the ankle--after coercing the heel with the promise of two pints and a massage--managed to slink away behind the rest of Gared's body.

It would have been unfair to accuse Luis of disliking Fenton. The person guilty of that particular crime would be the sort to define the Chosen as "strong", or a sword as, "pointy." Luis was far from scrupulous but--call him old fashioned--there were some things he just wouldn't abide. Being clunked in the head by a bloody big rock, at the hands of an appointed charge was one of those things. Gared--much to his chagrin--had likewise been assaulted but as his head had not almost been caved in by the fell combination of a thirty year-old rug rat and a stone, he considered himself fortunate.

So Luis had made a mistake. Well, he'd know for next time. He who dares wins, as "they" say. Well, as far as Luis was concerned, whoever coined the phrase did not have women in mind. He decided--in fact--that whoever coined that particular phrase deserved a swift black eye. Any lass with a soft spot for midgets was officially off limits.

Rayenne had appeared fatigued and like the chivalrous (not to mention slightly opportunistic), man that he was, Luis had offered to occupy the restless Fenton so that she might rest. Thinking more of the rewards he would no doubt recieve than the task before him, Luis even went so far as to place an affectionate hand on her shoulder. Catching Fenton's eye, he stopped. Dead. Actually, it would be more appropriate to say that he snatched his hand back as though he had just spotted the rattle snake in the long grass, poised to take off his hand... which, coincidentally, is what Fenton resembled quite strongly at that very moment. Rayenne was more than happy to take her leave and so promptly left the three to their own devices.

It was the prickling sensation on the nape of his neck that first alerted Luis to his indiscretion. Turning on his heel with a liquid manoeuvre he was confronted by a pair of luminous, guileless eyes. While the round, fleshy being was still devoid of all emotion save a simple cheer, Luis could not shrug off a feeling of unease. He Glanced at Gared, who glanced back, the same puzzled expression reflected on the face of the larger man. It was then that he noticed the rock.

If it were possible for a piece of earth to appear disgruntled, it was the piece that Fenton was stroking in an absent, sinister way. The rock was a perfect sphere. From somewhere came the notion that this specific rock had taken a strong dislike to Luis, and would like nothing better than to round the edges of his body with a multitude of well placed blows. It was such an uncanny, yet prevalent notion that Luis couldn't but feel a little disconcerted.

Dislike didn't fully describe the expression the rock wore. It seemd to Luis as if the rock was well aware of the fact that he--Luis--knew he was disliked and found the entire concept entertaining in a soft, fleshy sort of way. So confident in its own abilities did the rock seem that one might brand it "smug." Of course it would be absurd to ascribe human characteristics to a rock... right?

Fenton cocked his head to the side. Cradling the rock toward his ear. Luis, knowing he would regret his next action even before he made it, clared his throat loudly.

"Yes?" Fenton replied, voice lilting and musical. Eyebrows slightly arched
"Is umm... that a rock?" Hesitance
"No."
"Right... good... umm... what is it?"
"A coconut."
"A coconut?"
"Yes."
"As in, from a tree?"
"Yes."
"But it's grey."
"Shhh."
"What?"
"He'll hear you."
"I see--"
"--Is very sensitive about his colour."
"Right." Slightly desperate inflection.

Luis shot Gared a look, then continued.

"Fenton? Let's go for a walk."
"Walk?"
"Yes."
"Why?"
"I don't intend to stand here all day."
"Can't."
"What?"
"What?"
"No. What?"
"What, what?"
"What?"
"Yes."

[Groan]

"Just come with me. Now."
"No."
"Damn it, Fent--"
"I am not Fenton."
"What?"
"Wh--"
"Stop!"
"Go!" Beaming pride.
"No!" Frustration
"Yes!" Enthusiasm. Girlish laughter.

Luis began to rub his temples in a circular motion. Gared shrugged helplessly. Luis thought for a few moments. Then spoke again: biting off each word.

"If. Sir. You are not my dear friend Fenton. Who might I have the pleasure of addressing?"

Fenton dres himself up. Striked a magnificant pose, his eyes gleaming feverishly.

"I!" The single word filled Luis with dread. Fenton's voice was no longer lilting and musical it was as deep and dark as Luis' mood. "Am the Dragon Reborn!"

With those parting words; Fenton, who was the Dragon reborn, sprinted hell for leather toward the market place. Luis paled noticeably then gave chase. Gared snorted and began to follow at a liesurely stroll. There were women about, and there was no need to ruin his "cool" on account of a delusional half-pint and Luis, who Gared always believed would bed anything that moved... and then some things that didn't.


***


It had taken Luis the better part of two hours to track down the wayward "channeler." Finally he found him crouching in an alley, crooning softly. At this point it would be good to note that Luis could quite happily have torn off Fenton's legs and beaten him to death with his own feet, were he capable of such a feat. (Aha, aren't I clever?)

Hearing Luis approach, Fenton's head snapped up angrily. Practically leaping into the air he shot to his feet; pun to face his adversary. Brandishing the rock, which was now suspiciously coated in a myriad of colours and what Luis thought to be the parody of a face, he roared:

"Ahsk, esh varumel!" Expectant silence.
"What the bloody hell?"
"Nrsh et val suren!" Exultant triumph.
"Look you little... I've about had it up to he--"
"Karat hashan, vaseen ramal te vorz!" Nothing happened. Again.

Fenton had used up all but the most powerful enchantment. Thus far his attempts to harness the power of the Grat Coconut had eluded him. But he was grimly determined to defeat his foe and save Faer--that is to say, Randland, from his evil clutches. Gritting his teeth he shouted in defiance.

"Coconut say sleep!"

Luis caught a sudden flurry of motion. There was a bright light and pain exploded inside his head. The last thing he saw before slipping into unconsciousness was the wickedly grinning face of painted rock. Fenton tittered somewhere just outside the periphery of his swiftly dimming vision...

#4 Sam

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Posted 08 December 2006 - 03:25 AM

They walked, the four: Gared and Luis flanking from beside — slightly behind — all business. Fenton and Rayenne exchanged excited whispers; gazed wondrously at the many gaily dressed hawkers and beautifully crafted wares drawn from all parts of Randland. In private revelry they were only dimly away of Gared and Luis strutting for the attention of passing females; glaring at any male who caught their eyes.

Rayenne's hand reflexively tightened on Fenton's shoulder, her thoughts travelling forward in time. Seeming to understand, he brushed her finger-tips reassuringly, then pointed to a performing gleeman and squealed. Rayenne gave a rich, pleasant laugh and followed his gaze: Luis gave Gared a scathing look. Gared only shrugged.

To speak of Rayenne is to do her disservice. Her beauty cannot be seen; it must be felt. Of what could I write to make you understand: how the passion in her voice leaves me weak; how her warmth makes me think of nothing other than spending my life alongside hers? In my mind I see her as she is – perfect – I cannot make you understand. If you could but experience those things that make her, you would come to know true beauty.

Of Luis and Gared? Though they are opposites in almost every way they are brother's in the truest sense of the word. Luis is driven by his fears and desires, always to prove, always to win; Gared by wander lust and a simple creed, “anything is better than nothing.” Working with a degree of sympactico I have never before witnessed, they are terminally effective, and their loyalty to each other is beyond questioning. Rayenne could be no better protected than by them.

Of Fenton . . . ? Well, you must wait and see.

The quartet had made their way through the market place, making sure to visit every vendor and inspect his, her, or their produce. Fenton and Rayenne were still engrossed in a corral of lavish tapestries, sweet cakes and performances; Gared was customarily hungry; Luis was peevish, as always. They neared the edge of the market place, where the crowd thinned greatly.

Rayenne's effected unease as she turned to face her three companions. Unconsciously she fidgetted and chewed her bottom lip slightly, a classic symptom of either her fear, or intense concentration. Fenton took her hands in his, and gave her a winsome smile, as Luis and Gared looked on sympathetically. Even though Rayenne was the leader of the group, she had the least experience in dangerous situations – even Fenton having seen more: he did have a tendency to create them – and she was still unable to completely control her fear.

“Luis . . . if you would . . . look after Fenton. Gared, come with me.” Luis affected a groan of dismay (yes, I used affect and effect in consecutive paragraphs, and what what are you going to do about it?), but in truth he both understood the logic of the choice and was relieved. Gared was an impressive specimen and had an even temper. His capabilities were less likely to be tested than those of the smaller, lighter, Luis. The rumour that Gared had mixed parentage and sprung partly from Trolloc stock also helped. It was a rumour Luis had started, after witnessing Gared literally tie a poor would-be thug into knots with his own arms and legs. It had been a lesson no one present had ever forgotten . . . and after a visit from an Aes Sedai the thug was more than happy to take up a new career. The claim of self-defence had been a bit of a stretch, but with a mass of witnesses all swearing, the authorities had been forced to let Gared go. The four separated into pairs.

Luis only realised he had been staring after the retreating duo when a small pointed finger jabbed him in the ribs.

“Oooh?” Luis began to sigh, then checked it.
“Huh? What? Thank you Fenton! I am a bit hungry.” Fenton held in his small hand the greenest, juiciest apple Luis had ever seen. Luis thanked him kindly and bit deep. It tasted just as good as it looked. “You know, Fenton, I'm beginning to think I misjudge—Fenton?”

With a puzzled expression he found Fenton about ten long strides away prodding a rather corpulent man in the belly. When at last the prodding had the desired effect, Fenton whispered into the man's ear. The two conspirators then spun around and stared directly at Luis. The corpulent man was clearly displeased, while Fenton was looking particularly dastardly. Luis looked to the corpulent man, to Fenton, to the stall of apples, to his own hand . . . “Oh, light.”

As if that was not enough, Fenton somehow produced another apple, took a mighty bite and grinned benignly at the stall keeper with apple juice running down his chin. With that, he cannoned past Luis, off at a gallop, all sparks and whoops of laughter. Luis and the stall keeper turned the same bewildered stare on one another. The Stall keeper's expression darkened to an extreme one could only describe without a handy four letter expletive as “upset;” Luis's to that of a severely chastised puppy. He considered his options for a moment, noticed the stall keeper's very large arms and muttered a quick “bugger that” before fleeing after Fenton.


Some time later:


“Fenton. Fenton, I know you're in here. Come out. I only want to 'talk.'” Yeah. Right.
“Me not here. Go away.”
“I see. Where exactly aren't you so that I know where 'not' to look?”
“Me definitely not behind the little blue carpet.”
“Oh. Excellent. I won't bother looking there then, nope. I wonder where you could be.”
“Definitely not behind the little blue carpet.”

Luis had finally tracked him down to an expansive tapestry display up against the brick end of a street. He had not fully decided on which fantasy he was going to enact, but he knew it was going to be particularly unpleasant, and that he was going to feel particularly good about it afterwards. He crept forward slowly, his movements barely a whisper. The little runt was going to get it but good this time, he would make sure of--.

“--Luis! Where have you been? Where is Fenton?” Rayenne.
“Uhh . . . playing hide and seek?” Weak smile.
“We have to go. Now.”
“What?” Surprise; a shiver at the seriousness of her tone.
Gared made several gestures. Luis paled. Fenton went “boo!”
They left.
Quickly.

#5 Sam

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Posted 21 February 2007 - 03:03 AM

"Fenton . . . could you 'please' pass the salt?' Luis.
Giggle.
" Thank you, Fen--blood and bloody ashes!"
"Fenton, did you loosen the lid on the salt shaker?" Soft disapproval. Rayenne.
"He-he-he."
There was a thump under the table. Gared signaled a fierce imprecation. There was another thump.
"Ow! Gared, I didn't mean to."
A gesture that would certainly break the PG13 barrier.
"Gentleman, can we not share a quiet meal for once?" Rayenne again, soft and mollifying.
"He-he-he."

They had evaded pursuit easily despite Fenton attempting to leave a bread crumb trail. Luis had queried this act and Fenton had replied innocently that it wasn't what it looked like: he was leaving a bread crumb-trail. He then asked kindly if flying-otters liked bread-crumbs, and if he shouldn't stop to do some pond-fishing instead, as he was not interested in attracting that sort of flying-otter at all. Luis enquired no further.

They were now holed up in a Tavern that, while close to where they did not wish to be, had been "secured" with a great deal of coin. It comprehended several less noticeable exits and as much privacy as anyone could reasonably expect. The hearth was warm, the ale was cold and--as Luis eloquently pronounced--'"not as watered down as the slop normally served by inns and eateries in this neck of the woods."

"Give it back!"
"Mine!"
"I'm warning you!"
"Mine-mine-mine-mine-mine!"
"Look you little. . . !" Luis raised his hand to give Fenton a cuff around the ear.
Fenton screamed the kind of scream that shattered crystal.
"Fine. Fine! Take it. Just take it." Luis groaned.
"Oh, thank you, thank you! I'll love it and care for it and treasure it and love it and care for it and--"
"Fenton, please." Rayenne sighed.
"Wooo . . . wooo!" Fenton quietened.
"I need ale." Luis exclaimed.
Gared seconded.

Rayenne leaned forward and placed her elbows on the table. She massaged her temples in an effort to relieve a growing ache behind her eyes. Fenton squeezed one of her hands affectionately, bringing a warm smile to her face, a smile reflected in Fenton's eyes. Gared looked on in the same way he did everything: silently. Luis returned shortly with two healthy and robust jugs of ale, set them down with a loud thump and aimed meaningful glances at Gared.

"Well, gentlemen, it is late, and I am feeling less than my usual self. Fenton: escort me to my room?" Fenton plopped down from his chair; took Rayenne by hand. They walked up the staircase disappearing from view.
Luis scoffed. "Spurned for that crazy little bastard," muttering into his beer, "I don't know why she lets him tag along."
Gared leaned back in his chair and smiled.

***

Luis took a long draught from his ale. On an all-expenses-paid inn stay, one did well to sample the fringe-benefits. Both Gared and Luis had been drinking late into the night; both were still sober and both were watching the bustle of patronage around them. It was unusual for this time of night. That had been the first clue. Another was that almost-military precision could not be masked by the clothes of a commoner. Luis wanted to warn Rayenne, but giving any indication that something was amiss could be disasterous. Instead he was forced to bide his time and "play it cool."

See? Luis covered the message in his hands by tapping out a drunken sounding rhythm.
Yes. Came the deft response. Number?
Dozen.In the half light no one would comprehend the silent exchange.
Practiced. Good--Gared observed--.
--Dangerous. They signaled in unison.

***

Rayenne turned in her sleep, restless and worn even in her dreams. Fenton sat in a chair, watching the moon cast silhouettes upon the wall of their small room. He gave the uncanny impression of guarding her as she dozed. It was quiet. Nothing strange there. Something was in the air, a tension, a feeling of unease. It creeped into Fenton's mind, as it affected his sleeping care-giver. Fenton's nerves twitched. Too late he saw the source of his disquiet, as his mind became awash with red pain. Then. Nothing . . .

***
Bang.

A man, suspicious avised, dropped into a seat opposite the two compansions. While he made no overt gestures his manner was threatening. Luis did not know who had tracked them or what they wanted per se, but it was clear that this meeting was not half as friendly as it appeared, which was not a whit. The man stared, nothing else. Luis thought that perhaps it was in an effort to unnerve him . . . Frightening maybe not, but definitely annoying.

"Drink, friend?" He offered politely. The man leaned forward in that menacing way that encouraged others to shrink upon themselves. Luis did not shrink, and Gared was about as small as he would ever get.
"We have the girl. Come quietly and you 'may' live. Resist, and things will get most unpleasant." His voice was pregnant with malignance, and Luis didn't much like it. When he was a lad you didn't need to dress up fancy and speak in grave keys to be feared, it was all strength-of-will then. More genuine.
"Here I was thinking that perhaps you simply wanted to share a drink, more's the fool me, eh?" Luis took another deep draw of his ale. Gared did the same.
"Think car--" the stranger began to speak again, his voice clipped. Rehearsed dire and prelated.
Gared snorted. The stranger's face coloured in anger. He was used to others cowing, Luis decided; neither he nor Gared were in the mood.

A gauntleted fist swung through the gloomy inn, collected Gared's ale as he was reaching his mouth. It spun along the surface of the table, splashing foamy ale; went off the edge and hit the ground with a clatter.
"Awww . . . mate." Luis was honestly shocked. "You shouldn't a'done that."
The stranger flashed a well prepared smirk, right up until the world arose like a monolith and crashed down upon his head.
Luis scratched his head. "Was the table absolutely necessary?"

Every pair of eyes in the tavern zeroed in on the almost unbelievable scene of Gared, looking rather sheepish, holding in his hands the solid table that had just levelled, if not killed, some poor sod. The moment of confusion was gone in an eyeblink, anyone not participating in the coming free-for-all quickly made scarce. The odds were not in their favour.
"Counter?" Luis mouthed. "Counter."

***
Fenton moaned softly. His hand travelled to the bloodied knot on the side of his head. His mouth worked soundlessly as he gripped a bed post and dragged himself back to his feet. His vision dimmed, and he wobbled uncertainly. After a few moments of ragged breathing the scene before his his eyes cleared. With a grunt of effort, he staggered out the door and down the hallway.

***

Luis and Gared did not make the comparative safety of the counter. Instead they were pinned side-by-side against a wall. As it turns out a table is an effective . . . anything, really, providing you're several hundred pounds of raw muscle and maintain a healthy imagination. Gared had found moderate success holding the table firmly by it's legs and using it to deflect sword thrusts. There was no effective riposte that he could see, so when the opening came he buffeted anyone within range by way of corner or edge.

Luis however, was managing quite well for himself. So well that he found numerous occasions to complain about all and sundry having fought back to back, and couldn't they try something a little different for a change. "Can't we just try it? Gared? If you don't like it we'll stop. Promise." For all his whining, Luis was an accomplished swordsman. He was in no hurry, did not need to be . . . yet. He would afford to be patient. Eventually frustration caused a mistake, and Luis was able to make a quick thrust or slash that would hopefully stop whomever it hit. Two sword wielder's were already wounded in such a fashion, and he was now working on one cheeky beggar using what looked to be a crudely made spear.

Gared was now finding himself in a tugging match; a few of the more intellectual sort considered the feasibility of pulling the table away from him to make him easier to hit. They had not figured on the resistance they might face while attempting to do so. Gared pulled with his arms and shoved with a piston leg, shattering the table and catching someone in what he thought was the face, who went down like a sack of horse feed. He only managed to pull one table leg free before he was once again pressed by the crush. Had the battle taken place in a not so dark and cramped environment, it would have been over already. The only thing forestalling a rush was the fear of striking a friend.

Luis was not gaining against the spear. He could not move forward for fear of being skewered sideways by someone else, but neither could the spearman close the gap for compromised manoeuvrability. "Switch!" Luis called, loud enough for Gared to hear. The two men switched places deftly. Gared's hand closed on the spear haft like like an iron cast. With one arm he lifted the surprised man right off his feet and then struck him soundly on the forehead with the table leg. Luis scoffed and rolled his eyes, "I didn't think of that."

***

The traditional metaphor for a fatigued warrior seems to be fire; the burning of limbs. Neither Luis, nor Gared felt this. Instead, it was a cold numbness spreading from their chests and radiating outwards. Their hands felt thick and clumbsy. Their parries and riposte's slowed, as did their defence. Their feet did not move quite so fast. As their movements slowed, the damage they took increased. The frozen osculation of swords chilled that little bit further, spears bit deeper. Maces made that little more contact with malleable flesh.

Luis faced his approaching death with gusto and aplomb. It wasn't like he had anything better to do. The single act of trying to keep himself alive created a corral that protected him from dispair or self-pity. Besides, at least if he went, Gared would go to. He could gain some peace from that. Dying alone made you a fool; dying with company made you a hero.

***

Fenton had taken a very discreet route to the foray. In truth he had not been prepared to see anyone, least of all Gared and Luis, his mind was far too preoccupied with more urgent quarry. Some part of him was touched by her, and he could not abandon them. For her sake. One of his small hands reached into his tunic reverently, drawing forth a spherical rock, upon which was drawn a smiling face. They wouldn't see him coming.

He came from the darkness, his normally cherubic features a stone carved allegory. His first victim was caught from behind, the rock collecting the side of head at the same time that Fenton wrapped an arm around his chest and dragged him backward. The crack was not even audible amidst the battle. Once. Twice. A third time for measure and he was moving forward.

The second saw him out of the corner of his eye, turned on his heel and let fly his sword. Fenton's smiled. One step backward. The iron whined as it passed ineffective. There would be no second swing. Fenton was already gone when the dagger in the man's throat began to flower.

***

They felt the wind of battle change. It was a tangible thing. A disturbance from behind was spreading infectious confusion. They were getting sloppy. Luis had suplimented his long sword with a mace. The combination had proven formidable and the last memory of their legs that handful of his opponents would remember was going to be their agonizing drop to the floor. Gared's tactic of striking with anything available was also working. At times he used whole people as flails against their allies. One flighty lad had actually stabbed and killed one of his own.

Luis suddenly felt as though a jungle had parted before him, and he stood on the crest of a flat plain. The crush had simply disappeared. The last three men standing were not even paying attention to the duo, their focus was on a much smaller adversary darting in and out among them. Luis and Gared watched with lurid compulsion as Fenton engaged the remaining enemies.

Wherever a blade swung, he was not. Whenever an effective parry or riposte could be made he was positioned elsewhere. Luis began to feel giddy. One opponent dropped. Followed by the second, followed by the last. The first had a crossbow quarrel masterfully placed into his armpit, the tip of which surfaced out beside his collarbone, scraping against the side of his neck. Wisely he stopped fighting. The second recieved a quarrel behind the knee, an elbow along the bridge of the nose and a fierce impact to the temple with a smiling rock. The third recieved a clean slash along the throat from a knife that's presence lasted no more than heartbeat. As he fell a piece of cloth was pressed into the wound to slow the bleeding. That was for her.

"Light," breathed Luis. Quite certain that his heart had stopped beating. Fenton looked up suddenly. He whooped several times, ran two or three tight circles, then ran out the inn door. Moments later Luis and Gared would follow. For now they were trapped in a state of torpid animation, the only words to escape Luis' mouth were: "bugger that."

#6 Sam

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 05:42 AM


When Gared and Luis caught up with Fenton, he was crouched low to the ground, one small hand resting on a knee, the other pressed into the damp earth. They approached cautiously, not recovered from the rampage they just saw.  They did not know what he was doing, which was trying to spot tracks in the darkness. There was not much traffic, or at least there had been known since he started looking. He was confident that the uncountable hoof tracks leading away into the night would be where she was taken. It did not matter that he was not positive, for there was no other choice. The people with whom they worked were not given to ransom notes or demands.

Luis put his foot down too heavily, Gared glanced at him reproachfully; Fenton did not react, even though you can be sure he heard. Between the two of them, Gared was secretly the smartest. Yes, it took him longer to work things out, but when he did he usually made the right decision. For instance, he stopped and let Luis walk towards the crouched figure alone, which under the circumstances was the appropriate thing to do. Gared knew it and you know it; sadly no one bothered to inform Luis.

He managed to draw breath in preparation of a soft call—I’ll give him that—before Fenton rounded, again displaying an agility and speed that he should not have possessed, not to mention a distinct look of purpose. Without quite knowing how, Luis found himself lying in the dirt, on his back, Fenton squatting on his chest and pressing the blade of a dagger lengthways against his adam’s apple. This in itself was not an uncommon situation for Luis to be in. No, he took issue with the fact that Fenton looked eager to do it, like it wouldn’t even be business, or he wouldn’t get paid but didn’t mind overly much, and that was not a thought Luis was comfortable with.

“We have to help her.” His voice had lost a lot of its innocence, and it was terrifically liquid, like it belonged to someone who really knew how to use it.

Luis nodded vigourously.

“I wouldn’t nod too hard, if I were you. You may slip and your head might fall off.”

“Right.” Luis stopped moving. “I don’t suppose you’re going to let me up?”

“Not just yet.”

“Then why should I help you?”

“Because, and this is just my first reason, I have witnessed enough of your drunken confessions of love to—and let us finally get this sorted—my Rayenne, that you shouldn’t mind proving it.”

“Ah. And your second reason . . .?”

“That one is easy. I don’t like you, and I’m the one with the knife.”

“That’s a very good reason. Don’t suppose there is a third?”

“Oh yes, the third reason is my favourite. It’s a killer.”

“I don’t think I need to know reason three.”

“Smart lad.”

The knife retreated and Fenton stepped off his chest. Luis rolled to his feet and rubbed his throat. He looked like he had spent years training the family dog only to have it bite him. He said, “I think I liked you more when you were stupid,” but made sure it was quietly.


The trip was made in silence . . . more or less. Fenton took the lead, riding his horse with a degree of skill that depressed Luis, who rode apace to Gared, flashing hasty, angry hand signals. Bad that Fenton reveal himself as more intelligent than Luis realised; worse that he was present almost every time Rayenne had politely turned down an advances. Bastard!

Who’d have thought? Rayenne could have said something! He didn’t really need his hands to ride.

I thought it was obvious. Gared shot back.

You knew? Luis snapped.

I . . . suspected. (Don’t ask me how one signals hesitation with their fingers.)

Why didn’t you tell me?

Gared looked bemused for a moment. I didn’t want to ruin it for you.
Oh, gee, thanks! ( Again: do not ask me how to represent sarcasm with your fingers. I can only think of one symbol you can make with one particular finger and you’ll get that symbol yourself if you ask me that question. )

Don’t mention it. Gerard’s fingers positively smiled.

I won’t. Luis’ did not.

Good.

Stop talking to me!

I’m not even talking.



Luis spent the rest of the ride, several hours long, staring fixedly at Fenton’s back. If he were a female, he would have been accused of sulking, but we all know males don’t sulk, right? This was turning out to be a rather unpleasant day for him. He was not surprise friendly at the best of times and this certainly wasn’t then. Stupid midget.  What did she see when she looked at him, anyway, other than straight over the top of his head? How did they even . . .? That wasn’t even hygienic to think about.

They rode through several small settlements, pausing often so that Fenton was able to continue scanning for free tracks. Had they been smart, the abductors would have stolen her at noon, or at least in daylight, when more commoners were about to obscure the tracks.  Fenton was thankful that they weren’t. The only reasoning he was able to come up with was that one of their former business associates decided it was time to raise themselves in stature, or perhaps there was a personal grudge involved somehow. Whoever it was would pay dearly.

Eventually Fenton pulled them to a stop before a moderately well fortified  . . . building. It was not a mansion, but larger than a normal home. They left the horses and crept closer. The sound of patrol was easy to hear in the night silence. The metallic chinking of armour and groaning of leather harness sounded behind a tall wooden perimeter fence. Who could possibly live there?

Fenton sighed, “I don’t suppose either of you are . . .” he looked from Gared’s impressively sized body to Luis’ petulant, sulky face, “. . . I’ll just go and see who is home, then? Right-o. If you hear any shouting, don’t be afraid to come to my rescue. It would be a shame if I were to tell them about the two before they poke holes in me.”

With that he clambered up the fence and vanished over the top.

"Bastard" Luis swore.

About half an hour later there was a shout and an exhausted Fenton toppled back over the fence to land in a sitting position. He mopped at his face with a kerchief, “Phew . . . well . . . you’re about to get . . . a chance to earn . . . your pay.” Prophetic words thus spoken an alarm bell started ringing within the complex like building, and Fenton shrugged helplessly.

“How many are there?” Asked Luis.

“One or two; a couple of strapping lads like you should have no problem. Say, I don’t suppose the big fellow there has a weapon?”

In response Gerard shambled over to a nearby tree and set about tearing the branch off it.

“Oh . . . good to see that’s settled then.” Fenton’s voice was faint. “I’d better leave you to it. I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.”

“Wha—!” Luis began, but Fenton had already slipped back over the fence. A gate opened and a dozen armed men stepped out, with burning torches.

Gerard sighed and went to pull another branch off the tree.


After many years hiding in plain sight it was strange to be stealthy again. He decided he was really no good at it. In normal society a small vacant-eyed man carrying a bag of sweets would go largely noticed, but in the middle of an armed camp, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of an alarm, it was bound to raise some eyebrows. That and he didn’t have his basket. He really was coming to like that basket. It held a lot. He guessed that was why females like them.  He really did wish he had it now.

Onwards to find Rayenne and the answer to what this was all about. They had not reconnoitred the circumference of the fence which would have been handy. Rayenne would be housed either in the centre, where her captors would benefit from the most protection, or against a corner impenetrable or inaccessible from one or more angles by some means. He supposed he was going to have to find out which. Or at least, that was the plan. Military specialists often say that the first strategy never survives contact with the enemy, this is true of most things—like people, they seldom survive contact with the enemy, or more accurately, the enemy’s weapons.

“Halt!” Two voices shouted in unison.

Fenton kept creeping.

“You there, halt!”

“I’m sorry, were you talking to me?” Fenton’s voice took on that deceptively innocent tone.

“What’re you doing over there in the shadows?”

“Well, I would have thought that was obvious, sir, I am creeping.”

“Creeping?”

“Yes. All stealth like, if you take my meaning.”

“Our master told us to be on the look-out for a short fellow with a smart mouth. I’m guessing that’s you. We have bows, don’t move.”

“Why, no sir. That isn’t me. That is my brother, Harold. Harold the wise as he’s called. I’m always saying to Harold, I say, ‘Harold, your mouth is going to get you in trouble one of these days’ and you know what he says to me—?” He felt a spear prodding his spine, “No, I don’t suppose you are really that interested. I don’t suppose I can talk my way out of this?”

“Not a chance.”

They were dead before they knew what happened. Fenton dropped two hand-held crossbows and continued walking.

“Halt!”

“What?”

“I said halt”

“Yes, I know that. I was more, you know, questioning the meaning of the universe. Contemplating why we’re all here, that sort of thing.”

“Really?”

“No, actually. I know why I’m here. Why are you here?”

“To detain you. The boss wants you alive.”

Snnickt.

Fenton kept moving.

“Halt!”

Snnickt

“!—”

Snnckt

“Halt!”

Fenton sighed. “You’re lucky I’m out of crossbows.”


Before I go about explaining to you the battle between Gared, Luis, and the other fellows—whose  names we don’t know, but aren’t actually important as it is readily apparent they are going to die—I would like to get one thing clear. Luis, as always, has his long sword. Gared is armed with two branches. Gared, as a rule carries no weapons and sort of picks them up as he goes along. Anything that’ll fit into his hands; Gared has very big hands.

These guards were smart. Rather than spread out so that their individual torches would create easily exploitable blind spots, they spread out, each man illuminated by at least one torch held by another of his companions (we are assuming they are all males, it’s easier on Luis that way). They had done this before. On the other hand, what they couldn’t know that the tree they just passed was in fact Gared holding two very large branches. This, in my opinion, was their undoing.

Crack.

Need I say more?

Okay, you’ve twisted my arm.

The two branches descended with the shrill whistle of a German missile at the same time as Luis darted in from one side in a perfectly timed tandem offence leaving some of the dozen (three, actually) very dead, others trying to figure out how the man in front of them had managed to throw branches, and the rest trying to deduce how the man behind them suddenly became the man in front of them. Oh, it also created two very broken branches. Gared, being environmentally friendly and not given to wasting, picked up on of the torch bearers and started using him as a battering ram. This was very confusing for his friends. You should have seen the looks on their faces.

Luis continued to dart in and out of range in his patently liquid fashion and fairly quickly the dozen men were all broken or unconscious and a lot of cases both. So it turns out they weren’t that skilled after all.

Gared dropped his latest weapons (a helmet that fit nicely onto the end of his fist, as well as a long piece of chin mail, which when swung with forth caused surprising levels of ouch. The two men made their way through the complex, knocking senseless anyone silly enough to try and stop them.


Gared and Luis threw the doors open in typically dramatic fashion and stormed into the audience chamber, Luis marvelling at how well the doors opened despite the squealing of the hinges and Gared recognizing the squeals as belonging to the people on the other side and enjoying it all the more for it.

“Let my people go!”

A rather smug looking man with mouldy blonde hair who sat behind a desk said, “Ummm?”

Luis noticed for the first time that the audience chamber was also filled with soldiers. And this time more than a dozen.

“Never mind, Carry on as though I am not here.”

“Very well. As I was saying, Rayenne—sister—even if you don’t want to admit it, that this man with whom you profess love is the very reason I forced you into prostitution in the first place. Hell of a business man, but not too bright when it comes right down to it.” The blonde man was speaking to Rayenne, who had paled considerably. Fenton looked horrified and as though he wished to speak but couldn’t find the words. “Yes. That is right, sister. He happened to swindle me out of a great deal of money and I was forced to take drastic measures to save myself from debt collectors. Nothing personal, just good business. Turns out that his master and my master serve a common purpose but don’t see eye to eye and boy was my face red when I realised who exactly had been stealing his profits. I guess you could say this is revenge, of sorts.”

Luis turned to Gared, “Who does he serve, anyway?”

Gared shrugged, but one of the blonde man’s guards, who was wearing an insignia which denoted command, offered helpfully, “Why, one of the forsaken of course.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Luis was shocked.

Gared shrugged and said, “The forsaken.”

“Oh yes  . . . wait. You can talk! I didn’t know you could talk!”

“Well, you never asked.”

The guard chimed in helpfully again, “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know, you know.”

“Shut up, would you!”

“Well . . . fine . . . I mean. I was only trying to be helpful.” The guard sounded hurt.

“Let me get this straight,” began Luis, pointing at Gared with an accusatory finger. “You can talk!” His finger moved to Fenton, “He’s not stupid, and he’s a dark friend, and he’s Rayenne’s . . . whatever—and she was a prostitute?”

“Seems like it.” Gared replied. The guard wanted to reply, you could see it, but his posture suggested he wasn’t about to unless he got a heart-felt apology.

“Well, you know what?” Luis spat, “I’m gay. Yeah, just realised it right now. Gay. I’ve always loved you, Gared. Oh, yes, I also like to dress up like a woman while no-one is looking and you don’t even want to know what I do with your clothes while you’re not in them.”

Gared made a face.

The blonde man at the head of the table, not sure what to make of any of this, shouted so loudly that everyone’s attention was drawn back to him which was his attention in the first place. This was all going terribly wrong, and not nearly as well as he imagined it. Well, he wasn’t going to be upstaged by a fellow whose closest living relative was probably a weasel.

“You know,” his tone was snide,” I hoped for me. You know, the big revelation, a lot of anger, some tears. Was that really too much expect? Well, never mind that now. I’m just going to have to shot the pair of you.” Crossbows being all the rage, he picked one up from upon the desk, aimed it at Rayenne then pulled the trigger.

Only to catch Fenton full in the chest. He staggered a step before collapsing to the ground, Rayenne dropped down beside him.

The blonde man shrugged, “Would someone give me a damn crossbow?”

Snnickt

All eyes turned to one very embarrassed soldier whose crossbow had accidentally fired. “Sorry, sir!”

The eyes turned back to the unfolding scene to find the blonde had somehow tried to swallow an arrow. It had not worked.

Rayenne clasped Fenton’s hands. The strength of his grip was fading. His mouth was refusing to work and she dreaded to hear his words even as she dreaded him to remain silent. It was all too much to take in. She loved him still, didn’t she? Certainly he had not meant to . . . her mind was in turmoil.

“Ray . . . Rayenne” his voice was soft. “P-l-l-lease forgive me. I did not know. Y-y-y-ou brought a light into my life I . . . I . . . thought extinguished. Go . . . be happy f-f-f-ind someone who m . . . a . . . kes you happy.” Fenton’s eyes glazed over and his breathing became very quiet. Every breath in the room was held, well, except Fenton’s, he didn’t have all that much left and wasn’t wasting it on silence. With his last strength Fenton managed to sit up, point an accusatory finger at Luis and said firmly “. . . Except him!”

He slumped back.

Dead.

Luis muttered under his breath, “Bastard.”

Gared turned to the guard, now in charge, “Are you going to kill us now?”

The guard blinked. “No, no, you’re free to go,” he glanced at the deceased blonde man, “I never liked him myself, always had a bit of a temper. “

Gared and Luis led Rayenne from the room.