Roleplaying > Adventurers-Upon-Return

Convergence (Chap IV)

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Less than a Week Later, a bit south and east of Ganse.

Jehanna first saw Vorodon’s head emerge above the hilltop and nearly feinted. Not that she had any idea who (or what) she was seeing, but she knew it too big and ugly of a head to be human…and that couldn’t be good. The girl let out a limp ‘eeck’, then called more loudly to her brother.

Yandry dropped his pile of sticks and rushed to help his sister. The two had been picking dry wood for the fire, and must have wandered a bit too far. Rushing back to the camp, Jehanna in tow, Yandry dared one more glance back and spied the most bizarre group of ‘people’ he had ever laid eyes on, and that was saying something…Yandry had spent his entire twelve years of existence, living among the carnies and gypsies of the Caravans.

Climbing up and over the hill came an ogre; it had to be an ogre, Yandry thought, what else could it be? The huge humanoid was carrying what looked like metal stick, in one beefy paw, and seemed to be honing the spike as he strode. Next came a shining knight, the kind Yandry had seen in his picture books, walking his destrier lovingly along the rocky path, armor still gleaming, despite the light of the setting sun. Thirty yards to the left, descending the same hill via a different path, a small man came, wide-brimmed hat, swaying in the breeze, eyes darting along the paths seen and unseen. Following soon after came an intimidating human woman with a stark-white mane of hair, emanating in waves from her head, in the moist evening air. She had a look of steel-eyed intent, yet seemed lost in thought. It was a unique look, one few people could pull off, Yandry found himself thinking, as he ran shepherding his sister.

If he had not seen the white-haired woman, Yandry may have let out a shout of warning toward the camp, but he had seen that hair before, and the woman in fact as well, and though he wouldn’t admit it even to himself now as he ran, he had even thought of her on many a past night, when it was dark, and he was alone in his bed.

Instead of a shout of warning, he yelled, “Aunt Loiha! Your friend is coming!”

Loiha wasn’t exactly sure whom the young Yandry was referring to as she heard his shout, while busy skinning herrings for the pot of roiling water. After all, Loiha had many friends, and the gypsies had scattered from Ganse recently in all directions, hitching themselves to various caravans. One of the few towns in existence, she mused, which people ran away from not to, and into the wilds, even with the late winter slush, sometimes ankle-deep in the gullies and leg-breaking terrain outside Ganse.

The foursome had been traveling for two days now, south and southeast, having left Ganse, a better place than they had found it. The city guard was rid of its miscreants (or most of them anyway) and the capable, if gruff, Doglord, was now city guard captain. Vorodon had gained his revenge on the erstwhile ‘lieutenant’, Aerex saw justice done, Kyrian, likewise, and Talia, merely did what was needed t be done. Her thoughts were elsewhere, on her father, and strangely, more and more lately, on that willful man, Vorodon called ‘The Insecter’. These latter thoughts slightly annoyed her, and the fact that Matare was stealing looks at her, whenever he thought she wasn’t watching him, only aggravated the situation.

Aerex for his part was indeed stealing glances at the hoary beauty as the group traveled, but found himself thinking of Jantir, and the life he had left behind. It would be good to heal old wounds, he pondered…or would it? Aerex further thought of his chosen new path, and what it would mean for both his immediate and long-term future. He felt a pull in three directions. The City, the Wilds, and the Woman.

Kyrian thought of his lady, the one he had vowed to find. Sworn to himself, if no other, and that was most important to the knight. He thought as well, that this group was able, and even more impressively, had accepted him into their ranks almost instantaneously. This he found peculiar. Not the fact that anyone would NOT be impressed with his perfect form and prowess. That would be believable, Kyrian continued thinking. Indeed, he had spied the so-called Adventurers-Upon-Return eyeing him with what must have been awe, when had nearly sliced that corrupt guard in twain, back in the barracks. They were impressed and he knew it. No, what he found peculiar was their strange unity despite their differences, and his own strange compulsion to travel with this band. He often acted alone, he preferred it that way, but there was something…something about this mismatched trio, which Kyrian found appealing. Perhaps, they, like him, were meant for greatness? He questioned no one, but glanced at Vorodon.

The half-ogre had nearly tripped over a split boulder, at that very moment, trying to catch and stab a rock-hopping squirrel, which had darted into a crevice. Shaking his meaty fist at the hidden creature, and uttering phrases of contempt in its direction, in that barely understandable, hill-ogre, gargled-throat, sing-song of his, he looked up to see Kyrian watching him and offered a toothy grin, which could not have been mistaken for the Smiling-Goddess-in-Respite, a painting, Kyrian had remembered studying in his youth.

Vorodon had found himself thinking of dinner most of that afternoon, and when he smelled fish and potatoes cooking beyond the hillock, the giant sped up the pace, allowing the rock-hopping squirrel to live another day.

It wasn’t long before the foursome spied Loiha, her husband, and other gypsies, Maegla the Blind among them, firmly encamped, cooking a meal and sitting around a roaring bonfire. There were probably twenty to thirty gypsies in all, and several wagons. They were on the move, Talia knew, but did not seem in any hurry this night. Dinner would be warm tonight. She had almost forgotten the city guardsman she had left behind in the barracks, the one which begged her to accompany the companions to Jantir. She didnt believe the youth's tale about her potential father, and had no interest in sharing the road with the prickly and pushy little man. Neither had the others.

As the foursome neared the gypsies, Talia noticed Loiha, and the old woman noticed the Bladedancer. Talia smiled for the first time in a while, but was surprised at the first words out of Loiha’s mouth.

“Look what my little nephew Yandry found”, the friendly woman exclaimed, with a wide smile, as she held up a large oval object cradled in a burlap half-sack, and wrapped in cloth.

The object could only be described as what it was, an egg, but a huge egg, the size of a small shield in circumference and diameter, off-white, with a veined bluish tinge.

Loiha held it up proudly and continued smiling.

Ria Hawk:
Talia eyed the egg critically.  "I've never seen anything like that before.  What is it, a stone?  Looks like something some fancy lord would have in his study.  It's pretty."  She smiled at Yardly.  "Quite a find, for one so small.  Quite a find for any one."  Something tweaked the back of her memory, something she had heard recently, but when she tried to think of it, it faded away.

She and the others spent the rest of the afternoon with the caravan.  Gypsies were insular folk, and tended not to like outsiders, but since Talia was with the group, they were much friendlier than they would have ordinarily been.  They insisted on giving them dinner and letting them stay the night.  It was a little surreal to Talia.  She hadn't done this since the attack on her caravan.  She'd missed it, at first, but had quickly stopped thinking about it.  Too much stuff going on. 

When the sun started going down, Loiha said that she would find a place for everyone to sleep.  Talia shook her head.  "Not for me, thank you.  I have something to do.  The men would be glad of it, I'm sure."

Some said the gypsies were heartless, that they didn't mourn their dead properly.  Maybe it seemed that way to outsiders, but that was only because the gypsies seldom let tola see something that private.

The sun still peeked over the horizon, but only just.  On the other side of the sky, the full moon hung low.  Talia had gathered up just about every candle she could lay hands on, and it was barely enough.  So many people had died since the last time she had done this.  She'd found a secluded area a fair distance from the encampment, and now the candles were arranged all around her, flickering.  It had taken almost an hour to light them all.  Over a hundred, and each had a different name inscribed into it.

She knelt motionless in the middle of the candles, watching the sun.  For the first time in a long time, she was wearing her silver silks in addition to her regular black clothes.  One was tied around her right wrist, one around her left elbow, one around her waist, and the last around her neck.  She'd also put the blue figured silk cases over her fans, making them look more like something a noble lady would have at court rather than exotic weapons.

She held her breath as the sun finally slipped below the horizon.  Twilight was the time when the mortal world and the spirit world overlapped.  She rose fluidly to her feet and extended her open fans, assuming a basic stance.  The orange glow from the sunset faded quickly.  As soon as the sky was lit only by the moon and the stars, she started moving.

Funeral traditions varied a little from caravan to caravan, but they were all substantially similar.  Usually, someone recited a poem or a song about the one they were honoring- Illos had sung her grandfather's funeral.  But it was the dance that was important, and Talia was a dancer.

Her slow movements were all carefully thought out and graceful.  One fan skimmed a candle.  The flame whipped out, leaving only the smoke curling up.  Glordren.  The other fan whipped out another.  Aeth.  She kept dancing, her silver scarves flowing along with her.

Garreto.  Jarel.  Xyn.  Tor.  Asari.  Talia lost track of how long she danced, devoting her whole concentration to the old ritual.  One by one, she extinguished each candle.  Master Konos.  Illos.

The last candle when out and she dropped into the final stance, kneeling on the ground with her fans resting on the ground beside her.  She didn't move until the cloud of smoke from the candles had completely dissipated, taking the souls of the dead to the ancestors with it. 

She stood and closed her fans, and bowed in the direction of the moon.  She had no caravan master or elder or even any other mourners to bow to.  Then she walked to the edge of the candles she'd placed, sitting down on the ground looking at them.  She'd stay there until dawn.  Then, and only then, would she clean up and get some sleep.

Aerex sat quietly near one of the camp's fires, eating the simple but substantial meal the Gypsies had prepared.  He was grateful for their unusual display of hospitality - due primarily, of course, to Talia's presence - but he still felt deeply uncomfortable, unsettled.  It was probably less about the Gypsies, he decided, than it was about Jantir.

Jantir.  It was - home.  Or once was.  A grimace set over Aerex's face as he remembered his last time in the Great City: disgraced and betrayed, he fled from the impossible injustice that he had uncovered.  So much had changed since then, at least for Matare.  Had the city changed, too?  Did the Marble Steps of the central district still shine?  Did the market still cast its intoxicating aroma of exotic spices and goods, drawing both aristocrats and street urchins alike?  Did the light of the setting sun still turn the slums into a gilded city, glittering like a cathedral on a feast day?

Yes, yes it surely still did.  Jantir was still home, even if its heart was wounded with the decay of corruption.  The rapier felt heavy at Aerex's belt.  Constable or no, the burden of justice was still with him.  He would find it.  Somehow.

Things had changed for Aerex as well.  In a few scant months, he helped to save a town, toppled a crime gang, removed a corrupt captain of the guard, purified a monastery, and became a ranger by a mystical stone.  He'd seen failure, too: the deaths of Aethelstan and Glorden still weighed heavily when his guard was down.  He'd practically gained a brother in Vorodon, and apparently a new ally in Kyrian, even if he still had to prove his worth.

And then there was Talia.

Aerex gazed over the camp and beyond, where Talia had walked to.  She hadn't said much when she left, and he didn't dare pry: he knew well enough not to intrude on Gypsy ceremonies, even if he desparately wanted to go with her.  Why Aerex found her attractive, he still didn't know.  Perhaps it was her freedom, so easily sloughing off the strict laws of civilization he had been tied to.  Or her ferocity, like a burning flame.  Or even the way she first looked at him, with the perfect balance of judgment, caution, disinterest, and perhaps even pity.  It was as though she drew him toward herself, consciously or not.  "Who are you, Talia Bladedancer?" he murmured to himself.  A log broke in the fire, sending up a shower of embers to answer him.

Aerex shook his head.  Get it together, Matare, he ordered himself.  They couldn't stay in the camp for too long.

"So many people in silence - just all too hesitant I break its sanctity" Kyrian added to the assembled company, and to Aerex especially, seeing his brooding mood seeping from every pore. "Glorious Jantir awaits, streets of adventure and exotic delight! I especially recommend the Bellarosa tavern - finer bardic contests the world has never seen... or perhaps the Veiled Pearl, sir Aerex - the young ladies of the nobility venture there to sway to music most delightful, and display robes that would be a peacock's envy, and the cause of heart failure for many a man and their fathers alike...."

The knight sighed, remembering the times when he was a drifter in Jantir, and a gladiator before - perhaps he would even cross paths with young Astarte vanHellen again, a young damsel whose father was so generous as to offer him a squire's post, albeit a two month's voyage from glorious Jantir?

He chewed on a bone to clean his fangs, and briefly the silence returned.

As expected, it did not last long, defeated by another helping of enthusiastic words:
"And, Vorodon, for your cooking, I suggest you stock up on spices - some of them might manage to make even  a rock akin to ambrosia, a stick more appealing than a silken neck...
We might all wish to visit Chradrorn's place, as well - a finer smith was there ever seen.
Likewise, some of our hosts - perhaps you, lady Loiha? - could to take the stone you found to sell. A few Royals it may earn, and wealth has sure its delights.
Thank you for precious sustenance, I will not forget your kindness... but will you kindly excuse my absence for a moment brief?"

Meticulously picking a few leaves from his tail, the clatter of his armor so foreign in the savage lands, and strolled over to a hill, as to be closer to the stars. 'You are my witness, Shar-Sanya, lady of the full moon. I will prove myself - to you and all who might question, so that your gift may blossom fully in me.' The stars shone and sparkled, each one a distant mistress that teases with her flickering light. The skies were ablaze with their radiance, black velvet in stark contrast to their vital flare.

Only then, amongst so many lights did he notice an earthen constellation, a forest of candles, Talia in their midst. Her dark form accentuated and finely outlined by candlelight, she danced in the star-pierced darkness, the silvery mane catching the red fires on earth and white blaze of the skies.

On the hill's crest he sat, chin leaned against hand, until the bladedancer finished her ritual. Veiled in cloak, as for his armor's shine not go give his presence away he rose, as to return to the camp before her.

He would stand watch - his elven blood, coupled with the compelling presence of the moon's full form would not allow him to sleep a lot anyway.

From the moment that Vorodon had spotted the Gypsy folks’ brightly-painted wagons, the things that needed doing had preyed on him.  He had put off thinking about his responsibilities, but they would be denied no longer.

Maegla sat near the gypsies’ campfire, listening to the sing-song voice of one of the older men as he related what seemed a well-embroidered tale of travels in distant lands.  She seemed content, her hand unconsciously touching her belly, as if the growing life inside could already feel her caress.  She looked content, but she did not realize that Vorodon had returned:  Returned without her husband, Bross.

”No for to worry.  Vorodon go for find Bross.”

Not an empty promise when it was made, yet the words became lies in the basement of a distant monastery, when Vorodon found his comrade’s shattered axe and knew that he had failed.  Bross had bled to death, trapped in a storeroom with an arrogant, self-centered “Immfereel dignittery”.  Vorodon hadn’t been there in time to help the simple warrior.   

Vorodon’s heavy tread made Maegla turn from the elder’s anecdote.  Her clear voice called out softly, “Who’s there?”

“Vorodon is come here,” the hill warrior answered sadly.

The blind woman’s breath caught, then she realized the implications of Vorodon’s return.  “Bross… Where’s Bross?  Did you…”

Vorodon paused to clear his throat before answering.  “Bross… Vorodon too late for to helf.  Bross sleef gone of to Hall of Andur.”  He hoped that, somehow, the god Andur would take care of the Volgottir warrior that had fallen defending his monastery. 

The blind woman, suddenly pale, covered her face with her hands. Standing up, she turned suddenly, stumbling over the portable stool she had been seated upon.  Falling into Vorodon, her fists began lashing out, slamming weakly against the battered iron bands of his armor.  “d**n it all!  d**n you!  What am I going to do?  I did what I was supposed to; Bross was supposed to come home!”  She fell to the ground, crying out, “Why?!  Why?!”

Vorodon reached out to help the distraught woman up, but she shrugged off his grip on her arm.  His rumbling voice was faint as he tried to explain what had happened in his broken Common.  “Bad man wizard had giant of for stones:  Bross fight for before Vorodon arrive. 

“Vorodon lates too.  All lates too.  Friends kill bad man wizard, kill giant.  Vorodon go kill Leftenant and bad mans in Ganse.”

Maegla remained on the ground, barely moving.  Her voice was almost inaudible as she muttered, “Never.  I never should have…” over and over.

In the badlands of the Hill People, where Vorodon had been raised, when a warrior’s brother was killed, it was the surviving brother’s duty to care for his family.  Perhaps Maegla could come to Cottar’s Bale, the tiny cluster of cottages where he had been raised.  His mother’s family there might be able to help Maegla.  A blind woman couldn’t live on the road, with everything around her new each day; she needed a place that was stable, where she would be safe.  Since they first threw in their lot with the ferocious Volgottir warrior Gorye, few places in the hills were safer.  Due to the village’s relative poverty and ferocious defenders, few bandits would choose to disturb its inhabitants.

“Maegla, come for to Cottar’s Bale, place for Vorodon growed.  Vorodon sure make Maegla carered.  Vorodon family to carer to for Maegla, and maybe find Bross family.”

Maegla didn’t move, she just seemed to stiffen up, as if she had been turned to stone, so the half-breed continued.  “Vorodon come for little while back.  You decide then.”

He turned and quickly walked away, heading straight for Loiha’s nephew Yandry.   The child was showing off his new treasure, the blue-veined egg.  Vorodon's voice took on an even grimmer tone.  “Yandry-boy!  Yandry-boy tooked egg!  Nedd show for Vorodon place where egg from go!  Egg not give Yandry-boy, Yandry-boy tooked!   For egg-mother worry, come angry for to hurt Gypsies!  We bring egg back!”


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