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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Wheels rumbled over packed earth, the wagons they belonged to trundling at an even pace along the road to Seabreak. It was just approaching midday, and the sun had risen high in the sky. If it weren't for the wagons providing shaded places to sit, there was little doubt it would be a miserable journey. As it was, though, their journey had been pleasant. The caravan was well-established, attracting merchants of all sorts, which of course meant that nothing was ever in truly short supply around it, a fact which made the owner exceptionally proud of himself.

    The owner was Mr. Willam Tallhelm, an ironically short man who spent an inordinate amount of time talking to anyone who would listen. Most of the old hands had long since tired of him, and it was the new help who had been forced to endure his long-winded stories on the trip out from Ferrum. There were six of them sitting behind Willam in his wagon, hired on as guards or negotiators or simply going in the same direction. Tallhelm's caravan was taking the coastal roads up north towards Stormgate City, which was a good way to go if you wanted to get out of lands held by the Court of Altyr. Seabreak was another day's ride north still, a small farming and fishing village just on the edge of Court territory.

    Of course, any civilization meant a break from Tallhelm, which was welcome news. He was blabbering on now, re-telling the story about his humble start as a miller. They'd heard it already: Willam didn't have a huge number of stories, he just liked telling them. The caravan was approaching a bend in the road, where it curved around a small copse of trees sticking out of the hills around them, when he was interrupted. One of the regular guards, a young man by the name of Dayne, rode up on his horse.

    "Sir?" He began, "The horses could use a rest. It's hot out, and we've been travelling since morning."

    "Nonsense!" Willam frowned. He had been stopped just before one of his favourite parts of that story. "I want to be in Seabreak by midday tomorrow. We can't lose time now." Turning his head to look at the passengers behind him, he continued. "Isn't that right?"
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    "It is too hot." Laelaer Oussiryn complained, not concerned with contradicting their employer. The drowess was suffering somewhat in the heat. The chain shirt she wore was not the most comfortable thing, but she refused to remove it. Laelaer had been hired to defend the caravan, and she could hardly do that unarmored. The noonday sun did not agree with her, either, as she kept her eyes hidden behind a set of dark lenses. Their purple tint gave her naturally orange eyes a reddish hue. "Why are we rushing to reach this small village, anyways? Will an hour or so make any real difference?" Besides, if they stopped, she would have a chance to get away from Tallhelm's constant yammering, and those trees looked like they might be a cool place to sit for a little while. "It's about time we stopped for lunch, too, right?"
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    "A little heat won't kill ya." In truth, Thorus was uncomfortable and tired as well, but he would never let it on. Besides, he wasn't getting paid by the hour. He ignored the sweat he felt under his arms and held his head high, attempting to appear nonchalant. He'd learned to just tune out the owner's ramblings by now. "Ya know, in the army, they'd make ya march in this kinda weather. Toughens you up."
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    "If my mule gets any tougher, we'll have to serve her as jerky rations." Glaffin grumbles from outside the wagon, where he's checking on his mule's feedbag. The dwarf is just barely keeping pace with the wagons on his animal, and will most likely have to spur it on ahead just to get back into the wagon unless they stop soon. Still, it's better riding out here with the breeze blowing by and the sun on his face, and he'll be better able to respond if a horse breaks its ankle in a rut, or an axle snaps, out here.

    That is his job after all, a healer and craftsman all rolled into one. Hopefully he'd prove worthwhile to Mr. Tallhelm, since he was putting a lot on the line by picking up and coming along with this caravan. If he didn't make enough to support himself, he just may have to thrash Cecily for suggesting it.

    Not that his prospects in Ferrum were so bright, but at least he had stability there. All he had here was a sore arse from riding all day.
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    Cecily has seated herself near the front of the wagon, nearest to Tallhelm. She's been listening to his stories with polite interest, never letting on her increasing weariness to his repeated tales.

    The young woman idly toys with the metal zills along her tambourine's edge. She significantly more comfortable in her light, airy dress than her companions could hope to be. You'd think she didn't feel the heat at all the way she sits, straight and upright, a small smile on her face.

    She wipes her brow. Well, maybe the heat is getting to her a little bit. She takes off her bandanna and shakes out her red locks. "Of course we don't want to lose time. Money to make after all. But look at the horses. Their feet are starting to drag, I'm sure of it. Some rest might do them good, and they can set a faster pace afterward." She gives Tallhelm the most honeyed smile she can manage.
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    Indrys fans himself with a crinkled sheet of parchment that succeeds only in driving dry, hot air across the surface of his neck. His resplendent, gold-trimmed white coat lies folded across his knees, revealing the dyed lavender undershirt he wore beneath. He doesn't sweat, but that has less to do with his fortitude than it does to the expensive oils that he habitually massages into his skin after his daily ablutions. He sighs discontentedly while the others argue amongst themselves over a course of action. It would appear that, once again, he was needed to negotiate for sanity. "With all due respect to the esteemed Mister Tallhelm..." he looks towards his employer and bows his head in homage before continuing: "The town of Seabreak isn't going anywhere, and the horses do look to be in need of a reprieve. I would suggest an hour's recess at the least, perhaps even two, before going any further." He indicates upwards, gesturing to the sun. "It is, after all, only yet mid-day. We have hours and hours before we would need to make camp for the night. A brief interlude for food and rest would not tax our journey overmuch, I'm certain you'll agree." And then he steels himself, preparing to make a noble sacrifice for the others. "While we eat, sir, you could perhaps tell me the rest of your story. I am ever so interested in hearing how it ends."
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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    At least one person doesn't so much mind the sun as the lack of a stout breeze; he sits at the door in hopes of catching what little wind might be passing. His beard and half-open shirt are already damp. This certainly isn't coat weather, so like the grey elf, that sits rolled-up on his lap.

    Having largely zoned out thanks to Tallhelm's ramblings, Alec finds himself a few steps behind the rest of the conversation, but he decides not to pitch in since most of the others have already called for rest. He isn't keen on having to help pull one of the wagons if the horses start to stagger in the heat.

    "Those trees would make nice shade for the animals. Us, too." Alec leans his head out the window to look at the copse at the bend. It also occurs to him that between the cover and the hills, that'd be a decent place to lie in wait and ambush a sizeable caravan. But surely the guards aren't so dim as to let them get this close to such a spot without riding a bit ahead and having a look in advance.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    "Well, the time... We'd have less in Seabreak to sell goods. We'd be behind schedule," Willam protested, but he could see that he'd lost. "Oh, alright, we can stop for a moment. Let's just get the wagons up to that grove there, and we can pull them off the road."

    He seemed to have brightened, somewhat, at Indrys' suggestion, at least. Dayne pulled off, riding back up to the front. Shouts of agreement went floating in his wake, and the caravan's pace slowed as it reached the trees, drawing to a stop just before the bend in the road.

    "Now then," said Tallhelm, climbing down from his wagon. "Going to need some help getting these all the horses unhitched, hm?" He was looking pointedly at the group of passengers as he said this.
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    Alec expected (and planned for) as much. He's used to pitching in. With Cecily closer to the front of this particular wagon than him, he hops out and goes for the horses behind them. Far from being work, this gives him the nice opportunity to stretch his legs after hours in an enclosed, bouncing sweat-box. Even walking provides a little bit of air current.

    The driver of the next wagon in line gets a quick grin before Alec slides past the horses to fiddle with the reins, pull off their collars and breaststraps, and positions one of the pair at each of his sides. From there, hands gripping the bridles right below each horse's jaw, their front legs in line with him, clicking his tongue lightly to the roof of his mouth (that soothes horses, right? Alec doesn't know, but it sounds like the sort of thing you should do with a horse), he aims for the copse and cheerfully wonders if someone's going to jump out and swing at him when he gets closer. It'd damn well give Tallhelm a new story to tell, so maybe he should pray for the trouble.

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    Thorus wordlessly disembarked from the wagon, stretching his neck and rolling his shoulders. His legs ached from sitting in such an enclosed vehicle for so long - inactivity made him restless and irritable, especially in armor, but he did his best to not make a bad impression in front of his employer. Marching made you sore and tired too, but at least you got something out of it. He made his way over to the nearest horse and began untying its reins, absently keeping an eye on the copse. He felt the reassuring weight of his morningstar and shield on his belt. Strictly speaking, it seemed innocuous, but then again, Thorus was being paid to be paranoid.
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    Glaffin dismounts his mule with a groan, the knots on the inside of his legs speaking in protest at the movement. The swaybacked beast stares at him dully as he clips her feedbag around her muzzle, and it takes a few seconds before she begins to chew.

    The dwarf shakes his head. At least she doesn't fight for control when they're riding.

    Then he heads to the front of the lead wagon, intent on getting the horses unhitched as requested. The sooner it was done the sooner he could sit under some shady tree for a spell, sipping cool water.

    Cool water... now there's an idea.

    Glaffin turns in towards the wagon as his fingers clumsily work at the first horse's bridle, calling out, "S'cuse me Messir Tallhelm, but how're we for water? Assuming you have an empty barrel kicking around after we've watered ourselves and the horses, I could top up our supply." And make note of the barrel. At least he'll know the water granted to him by Tharius will be fresh and clean, assuming the barrel he decants it into has had a good scrub.
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    "What's that? Water?" Willam looked over at Glaffin, his hands on the reigns of one of the horses. "I'm sure someone has an empty barrel. Check the wagons, we can always use more water." Patting the horse on the neck, he led it slowly towards the trees, leaving the dwarf to find his own barrel. The other merchants, and much of the help, were doing the same.


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    Before long, there was a whole group of horses tethered to low branches, munching contendedly in their feed bags and whickering. A soft breeze had starting blowing in from the sea, helping to cool them, and their masters. Most of the guards, Indrys noted, had taken seats on the grass far from Mr. Tallhelm. The caravan owner was beckoning enthusiastically to him and the others to come over.

    "Mr... aneron, was it?" He called over. In the short time they had been travelling together, he had not pronounced the elf's name correctly even once. It seemed to be a sort of mental block for him, no matter how many times he was corrected.
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    After thanking his employer for the brief reprieve, Indrys makes his way out of the shadowed wagon and into the blinding sunlight and his eyes, although not as sensitive as Laelaer's would be, take a moment to adjust to the change. After blinking the spots from his vision, he carefully watches as the others work to release the horses from the tyranny of their bonds. He looks down at his own smooth, unblemished hands, and sighs resignedly at their inevitable dirtiness. He attempts the mimic the others as best he can and, after a few false starts and a mistake here or there (with at least one of the latter bringing a snort of discomfort from the horse) he manages to free the beast from its reigns so that he can head towards a soft seat on the grass beneath the natural shade of a tree. He looks instinctually to the larger grouping of people, but any hopes of a relaxing rest are dashed when he hears the ineducable Mister Tallhelm once again butcher the pronunciation of his surname. He turns and approaches the human with as much dignity as one can muster after having ridden for an uncomfortably long amount of time within the confines of a cramped wooden box. "Aneirion," he corrects, again, trying hard to avoid sounding snappish. "Ahn-ehr-eee-ohn. It means 'of the line of Neirion', who was the progenitor of my ancestry and the founder of my House. It is what marks me as an heir." Or would have, he thinks, not unbitterly. He takes his seat and folds his legs beneath himself. He'll have grass stains on his trousers for sure, but he luckily has more than one pair locked safely away in storage.
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    Cecily moves over to Glaffin before he joins the rest with Tallhelm. "And how was your ride, sir dwarf? You look a little stiff. A sit down over by Mr. Tallhelm will do you well. Maybe he'll regale us with another one of his stories." Her voice is full of amusement. You'd think that the hot day and Tallhelm's tales weren't getting to her at all.

    She turns to join the others before Glaffin gets so much as a chance to think about replying, but she casts a look over her shoulder and beckons for him to join her.



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    Glaffin grumbles as he stalks after her, having filled a barrel with six gallons of water earlier. "I've never had to suffer so much riding in all my life... but at least it isn't sea travel." Glaffin hasn't heard much of Tallhelm's stories yet, being new to them caravan and spending most of his time on his mule rather than in the comfort of the wagon. So there's always a chance he may hear a fresh story.

    A slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.

    Glaffin will sit with his back to a small sapling, legs splayed out in front of him and fingers working at the inside of his thighs after a brief attempt to swipe the road dust from his clothes. These cramps will be the death of him, he's sure.

    He continues his grumbling in dwarven, "<And the least you could do is call me by my own name. It's not like you don't know it, Cecily.>"
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    Tempting as it is to slip off, Tallhelm has apparently already spotted him, so Alec grudgingly comes over. He still doesn't sit; if they've got another day in the wagons, he'll use his legs while he can, before they atrophy. On his feet, he can also turn to hide the grin from Indrys's annoyance. The whole matter amuses him more than it probably should, but everyone has to find their entertainment somewhere.

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    Cecily seats herself daintily next to Glaffin and gives him a wide smile. She suspects he forgot she can speak his language. "<Oh, I'm sorry, Glaffin. Where are my manners? I didn't think you'd mind.>" She pats his arm before looking over at Tallhelm.



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    "<He'll never get it right, you know.>" Laelaer calls out to Indrys in the Elven tongue. "<It's a losing battle.>" She giggles and keeps walking past the group gathered around the caravan master. The drowess was tired of the man's stories and desperately needed to stretch her legs. As warm as the sun was, it was good to be moving. Stetching as she goes, Laelaer walks over to the animals and lends a hand putting the last of the feed bags on the horses. The animals fascinated her. They were powerful, graceful, and beautiful. There was nothing like them in her homeland, and they were even rare in Vayentsia, where the street was more likely to be a canal. She thought she might learn to ride one, some day, or at least earn enough gold to buy one. Maybe she would be rich enough one day to buy a stable and breed them, like the horses from Cairath.
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    He didn't forget, he's just slipping into dwarven out of annoyance as is his habit.

    With nothing else to do but massage his ailing legs, Glaffin fishes around in his pack for a moment before drawing out his tools. These masterfully crafted tools have been his livelihood, and one of the few things he could salvage from his ancestors after his home crumbled to slate and dust.

    So it's once again time for him to take care of them. Wipe them clean of dust, inspect for rust and dents, and give them a light coat of oil before wrapping them back in their kit. A daily ritual he nearly always finds time for, one way or another.
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    <But a battle worth fighting, regardless,> he retorts, the words flowing smoothly off his tongue as Laelaer passes by. He much prefers his native Elvish to the gutteral pig-speech that is the Common language of mankind. He doesn't believe that he'll ever truly understand how they manage with only five vowels, and simply speaking it aloud makes his mouth feel dirty. Indrys takes a moment to admire Laelaer as she moves away, not out of any sort of improprietous attraction, but because she so excellently exemplifies the innate gracefulness that is at least somewhat inherent in all elves. Granted, she is a drow, but no-one can be faulted for the misfortunes of their birth, and the benefits of her company far outweigh the negatives borne of her woefully tainted ancestry. The truth is, having another elf along (no matter the breed) almost makes the constant indignation of traveling with the caravan even remotely tolerable. He might even be able to enjoy himself, if not for Tallhelm's incessantly repetitive recollections. The gray elf manages to pry his eyes away from her and forces them towards the grass between his knees. He sighs, wistfully, and awaits the coming story.
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    After leading the horse to the camp, Thorus went back to the wagons to raid the water and rations. While he maintained an indifferent exterior, he mentally scowled at the elves and dwarves speaking in tongues. People speaking languages he couldn't understand always made him nervous, as if they were conspiring against him. The hell was wrong with Common, anyway?

    Thorus walked over to the others, long and heavy stride in stark contrast to the grace and lightness of the elves. Food and water in hand, he sat down heavily on a fallen log and scarfed down the hard, dry bread in as few bites as he could, and chugged half the waterskin at once. He felt awkward in such company; elves and dwarves were otherworldly to him, but not in a way to inspire awe, such as the beasts of myth and ages past. Thorus could understand and, if needed, manipulate other humans just fine, but he couldn't get past the different ways other races thought and acted.

    For now, he contented himself with watching the others, eager for when they got to town and he could get his pay and be back to civilization.
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    "Of course. Sorry." With a smile he probably hoped was disarming, and his usual careful ignorance of anything spoken in a language that wasn't common, Willam launched into a spiel that sounded rather carefully rehearsed. "As much as I would like to finish my story, I think that can wait for when we're back on the road. If we must sit here and rest for a while, we may as well use the time to discuss something productive, hm? That way, the time spent isn't a complete waste. I know some of you were only hired on temporarily, but I thought you might like a bit of a more permanent posting? I'm always looking for skilled people to come along with my caravan, you know. It can be so difficult to find good help. Back when I was living in one place it was much easier, I could simply hire the local boys to lend a hand around the mill for a few coppers an hour, and I knew who the best craftsmen were around town."

    Mr. Tallhelm sounded like he was getting dangerously close to lapsing back into his tale, no matter how important he thought the original subject had been. Fortunately, he seemed to remember himself before he got too far into it. "Anyways, to get to the point. You haven't been with me long, so you might not know the route I usually take. I do a simple circuit, between Holdfast, Lagrange, Ferrum and Stormgate, as well as a few other towns. Seabreak of course, and there's this little mining village in the mountains called Stonehalt. We never end up going anywhere too cold or too hot, and..."

    Tallhelm trailed off, looking back towards the wagons. Alec had seen it a second before the miller turned merchant did: someone had just darted out of the hills to the south, around the back of the caravan.
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    Alec is ready to accept, if not with giddy eagerness. It's a good offer. He could have access to a variety of places and a reason and means to move on before the locals could start calling for his head; with a nice, wide loop like this, his crimes (hopefully undocumented in the first place) might even be forgotten by the time he comes around a second time, particularly if he's willing to change his looks a bit. And of course, there's nothing to stop him from signing on now and leaving whenever he likes.

    The pirate is mostly just waiting for Tallhelm to stop talking long enough for him to agree when he spots the movement. A fast grin quirks over his mouth before he looks back.

    "I think someone else wants to join as well." Under the circumstances, Alec suspects that this isn't a sign of danger, but probably just a thief or hopeful stowaway. Or, perhaps, bait to draw their attention while a larger force attacks from a different direction. Either way, he doesn't move just yet.

  24. - Top - End - #24
    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Glaffin looks up from where he's putting away his tools and fishing out a bit of road jerky at Alec's proclamation. Up until that point he'd been silently considering Tallhelm's offer, and what it represented. A steady income, a chance for advancement and better pay, maybe even recognition as a merchant on his own merits one day.

    And riding. Constant, uninterrupted riding. There were far worse things, and he's sure he'll get used to it in time, but spending the rest of his days on the road was not the most appealing thing in the world when each beat of his heart brought new pain to his abused legs and backside.

    He's nearly ready to answer in the negative, or at least tell his employer he needs more time to decide, when Alec gets his attention, "What's that, see something back there?" Glaffin turns towards the back of the caravan as well, looking somewhat intently at it.
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    Like the others, Cecily considers the offer carefully. It's a decently large route, though she knows from experience having the same route all the time will get dull eventually. Then there's the matter of a steady income. Hm, perhaps she'd at least agree fr now. It'd server well for a good while at the very least.

    The woman is about to reply when their attention is directed toward the mystery person. Cecily looks around too late to see the person, but she'll trust those that did. "Hm, someone better attend to that I imagine." She looks at her companions expectantly. Specifically, those that look more suited to fighting if need be.



  26. - Top - End - #26
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    "Yes, yes, so it would seem." Looking over his shoulder, Tallhelm seemed to be counting the people milling about amongst the trees, feeding the horses, or working quietly on small tasks.

    "I don't believe that was one of ours. Let's go have a look, shall we?"

    Obviously confident in his backup, the caravan owner took off at a brisk pace towards the wagon he had seen the mysterious shadow vanish behind. Though, he couldn't seem to resist looking back over his shoulder to see who was coming with him.
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    Thorus groans quietly, amazed at his employer's confidence (or stupidity). Gods know who or what's behind that thing. Banishing the fleeting thoughts of Tallhelm's deal - consistent income would be nice, but he hadn't had trouble finding jobs before - he drew his morningstar and shield and held them firmly. "Watch yerself, sir. Dunno how many there are or what they want," he said, swiftly following Tallhelm. He tried to keep tabs on all of the good places for an assailant to stage an ambush from, but his employer's brisk pace likely made that information moot.
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    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Glaffin groans, and slowly stands, but by the time he's up Tallhelm and Thorus are already ahead. Between his short stride and sore legs, there isn't much chance he's going to catch up by the time they reach the back of the caravan, unless Tallhelm decides to slow down first.

    Still, the dwarf will unhook his own little-used morningstar from his belt. Never know what could happen.

    "I'm not liking the look of this. Keep on your toes." He had a spell ready for these situations, but he didn't expect to have to use it so soon. Let's just hope it's a curious animal then.
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    The offer of continued employment pleases Indrys in a way that he hadn't quite expected. Certainly, the money would be useful. Although it does not and would likely never equal the monthly stipend that he had once received from home, Tallhelm's pay was adequate for the work performed. The ability to travel from city to city, to see the many sites and states of Mercadia, was additionally welcomed. It would appear that traveling the breadth of the sea - twice - that he had acquired a taste for journeying. But he then decided that the most wonderful part of the offer was the sense of belonging that it raised in him. Tallhelm wanted his continued presence, enough so that he was willing to pay him to stay around. That felt good, in a way that he hadn't felt since Laelaer had shown him that he was capable of making friends at Shadeveil. He is grateful for the offer, especially so because he won't have to stoop to asking. Just before he is about to voice his gracious acceptance, however, they are interrupted by Alec's mysterious interloper. When Tallhelm rises to give chase, the Gray Elf follows suit. "Caution, sir. They may be dangerous." He then turns towards Alec. "Did you get a good look? How many were there?"
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    Still standing near the horses, Laelaer notices the group moving towards the back of the wagon train.What was going on there? Some of them had even drawn weapons. The drowess goes on alert, drawing her rapier and following, trying to catch up quickly without drawing too much attention and creating a panic.
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