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Pins and Needles - Attn: Sallie and Myth


Winter Mist
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~Dilora~

 

It wouldn’t be much longer now. Not many more nights of sleeping in her little wagon, cosily heated from the lamp that hung from the back wall, it’s light reflecting back from the mirrored sconce behind it and casting warm rays to cover all in a blessed golden glow. Not that she actually liked sleeping in a different bed to the one she knew. Dilora loved the open road; being able to sleep where she wanted, to be under no one’s rule apart from abiding by the laws and being reasonable, and of course the freedom to discover what did lie over that hill, or behind that stand of trees. The nightmares that had wracked her since the last time she had made this approach to Caemlyn were beginning to lessen and fade now, but every now and again Dilora would wake wreathed in cold sweat with dread memories pressing their cruel fingers into her mind. It pained her.

 

She hadn’t been back to the city since that carnival. One out of it, Dilora had journeyed around but had avoided the Royal City of Caemlyn until now. She had no choice now. Taking the first delicate steps onto the road leading there, she swallowed and drew rein, unable to make her horse, Altie, take those steps onwards. A small wood lay off to one side, looming in the dawn light and providing her with the chance to look for those medicinal herbs that would fetch so much money. A profitable side trip had harvested some wild herbs that would be good for cookery if dried properly and a small stand of the best mushrooms, Queen’s Crowns, were found in the shade of a tree some leagues back, so Dilora took advantage of the opportunity again to stock up on the little things that traded for big. It was not stalling!

 

Not that it would have made much difference if she had stayed a little longer, delaying the inevitable, but one more day to garner herbs and suchlike wouldn’t hurt, surely. The dulcet trickles of a small stream coursing through the middle of the copse would make it an ideal place to stay for one day to refill her water bottles and recharge her batteries, and of course Altie could do with a rest so he looked fresh when he got into Caemlyn proper. If her horse looked fresh, people would trade with someone that spared her horse for the simple reason that if Dilora took that good care of her horse, her goods she had to offer would be of high quality indeed. But still, one more day would not make that much more of a difference, so clucking the reins Dilora turned Altie towards the trees where she could hitch him for a day of peace before steeling herself for what promised to be a difficult day.

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She rides him with no reins, and Sallie Meep is a hell of a mistress. She was tough, as her sheep tights clad his body, her sinewy legs pinching the curve of his belly, and they leapt as though one over the physical threshold. Despite the strapping work of his powerful muscles, Asleah nicked the last brick slightly as he kicked out, and felt this particular hamstring stretch a hand more than he thought was its capacity. He reared and as they tumbled on the other side her endearing warmth had gone away, removed as a swirl of leaves raining falling embers …

 

Another wall; another day. Taking up her staff again, the courier was dismayed as she boosted herself from the routine, grimacing at the long print of her bottom in the sand. Surely it was not so large as that; she had slid quite a length from her perch on the gelding, whose sides was moving up and down rapidly. Her stomach sucked in as if by a blow. Asleah’s breathing hard! The sight of his gorgeous caramel eyes rolling up pained her more than the ache in her swollen joints. Gently, gently her fingers curled ever so tentatively around his limb, and she totaled up the injuries, and while not impressive as perhaps another time or two, they still needed some caring for. The courier resigned herself to making the poultice, and thus preoccupied spent the remainder of the day. Dying their colours are fading the old leaves to make way for the growth of new buds. Oh, to be vibrant in life!

 

Her rheumatism improved as the evening progressed, with every step she walked. She clicked to Asleah, curling her tongue in that particularly around. Her bottom felt numb from being dislodged and the courier will have to dig from her shallow allowance the fee for an ointment, if anything would be left over after she took Asleah to be doctored. If the tongue had been involuntary muscle, then like a serpent cleaning one’s teeth automatically. Her sigh blew at the grey strands of her hair with great impatience...

 

Perking at the thought of some good ale and company, the courier hobbled her way through the crowd, leaning every so often on her staff.

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~Dilora~

 

I woke to nightmares again; hopeless, terrified screams resounding in my ears and echoing around the confining walls of my wagon as I, playing out some terrible possibility of what might have been, added my soul-laden voice to those less fortunate that myself. People I have met insist that writing a diary of my dreams and of events in general will help me. It has not done so yet.

 

Her pencil paused, hovering over the surface of the smallish book of blank pages that Dilora was using as a journal. It hurt to think back to the carnival at Caemlyn, for although she had escaped the Bubble of Evil relatively unscathed physically, her mind was still writhing in turmoil for those she had not been able to help. At least they do not suffer anymore. Trite words, meaningless and futile, but they held a small measure of truth to them. She never showed that side of her. Not to the public. Dilora found herself forced more and more to rely on the fragile ebullience of the stronger brews to keep her cheerful façade in place, but even that would wear off once she got used to it. Hopefully the diary would work. Her pencil flew once more.

 

I write this every night, but even after all these months, the horrors have not really faded. Sometimes I wonder what is more real – living day to day with the memory of what happened, or the exaggerated dreams that replay constantly, usually in some macabre theatre for the soul. Memories of scenes etched in graphic tableaux are bad enough, but playing it over and over with different endings, different consequences. I realised how deeply the trauma had affected me.

 

So, is this some sort of turning point, this realisation? Only time will tell that for me. All I know is that as I write this my hands are shaking, and I desperately need a comforting hug. I love my life of wandering free but it is such a lonely one.

 

The sun was beginning to gain height in the sky now, progressing the day towards mid-morning. So much time already spent on her diary, but at least Dilora had set up camp first and prepared a fire and a bucket ready for garnering herbs. Altie was cropping at the grass, her tail flicking from side to side idly, and Dilora smiled at her. A horse was good for company on the road, but was useless when you wanted a lie in and someone to cook you breakfast. Light! It must be old age approaching making her complain so much! Light!

 

What must I do to move on from that event? Most people are probably already over it, but why is it affecting me? Thank the Light she didn’t write in ink or else the writing would have smudged with her tears. Indulging herself in her grief for a moment, Dilora felt so alone. When she could, she picked up the pencil again and began to write the final paragraph of today’s entry.

 

I’ll gather herbs from now on. I’ve always known medicinal herbs will fetch me more money, but I want to help those in pain if I can. My road continues, my mask goes back on and I become the Dilora everyone likes.

 

Her grief committed to paper, she dried her eyes and made herself cheerful by thinking of taverns in Caemlyn and pretty men to look at. And with that, Dilora took a pair of scissors and fastened on her belt pouch, picked up the bow and quiver of arrows and set out to collect herbs.

 

The sun was warming the grass, making it smell abundant and rich. These were the moments Dilora lived for, rare and undisturbed these days of tranquillity and natural means to fatten her own purse. Those too lazy or that lived far from such natural wonders would pay a good price for such things, and the more scarce they were, the better. Oh, she would still peddle the normal items that everyone wanted to buy, but more room would be given over to medicines and spices from now on. Mushrooms went into the bucket, some to sell, and some to dry to keep for stores. Some would be kept for tonight’s pot. Almost half a bucket collected, Dilora turned her head at the sound of someone approaching.

 

…On goes the mask…

 

“Hello!†She called out, shifting the bucket to under one arm and wiping the sheen of sweat from her forehead with the other. “Have you come in need of supplies? I carry goods you know you want, even if you don’t know it yet!†Her welcoming smile painted her face, genuinely interested in this new arrival and what they had to say. Maybe even interested in trade…

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OOC: it may be helpful to read my Ogier's bio to know what you're seeing. :D here's the link...

 

http://www.dragonmount.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1694

 

IC: Forge eased into the clearing from his watching place in the thicket. He knew the little humans were easily startled and his meetings with them had often been, uhm, interesting might be a polite word.

 

“Greetings, fellow traveler,†the giant Ogier said in his most polite voice, sounding like a bull talking. “May the Light shine on you on this beautiful day.â€

 

Having heard the wagon’s approach the night before, Forge had quickly moved his camp deeper into the wooded glade. He was not keen on meeting strangers at night. They usually were rather nervous at their first sight of him. Chuckling to himself at the thought, sounding like a bumblebee the size of a pony, Forge had simply re-located himself near the head of the nearby spring. Keeping a wary ear twitched in the human’s direction, he had quickly fallen asleep. His travels had been rough, and he needed the rest. After spending several months helping build the walls of the Band of the Red Hand’s Citadel, his urge to be doing more had finally caught up to him. It was back on the road, and the adventures had been both more and less than he could have hoped for.

 

It seemed the little human was troubled. Her screams woke him from time to time in the night, but it wouldn’t be polite to mention that. Looking down at the tiny human, it surprised him as it always did when he came in contact with them, that their delicate little bodies accomplished as much as they did. Unconsciously shrugging his massive shoulders in wonder, he hefted the body of a large deer in his left hand before speaking.

 

“If you are friendly, perhaps we could share some conversation over breakfast,†offered Forge. “I see that you have discovered a nice batch of delicious mushrooms, and since my hunting went well, we could almost have a feast.†His face broke into a smile that seemed to split his face in two, “That is if you’re not scared of the big, bad Ogier.â€

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~Dilora~

 

Light, it was an Ogier! Had she accidentally set up camp in a Stedding without realising? No, surely they would have greeted her sooner if she had. Dilora had not seen an Ogier since the last time she had been in Caemlyn, and that had only been in passing: the great stonemasons looking for work in the Royal City. This one seemed different to those Ogier though. Much, much taller than herself, who was only marginally taller than most Cairhienin women, this Ogier had much more developed shoulders and moved with a purpose completely at odds with the others of his king that Dilora had encountered. He seemed … purposeful. And his voice! It sounded like a dance in a beehive! He sounded amused at the fragility of humans and the standard reaction his massive figure usually attracted, and for the majority of the population, Dilora could understand it. However, Dilly had never been one for staying in a crowd. In spite of herself, she laughed.

 

“No, friend Ogier! I am not scared of you. Nor do I believe for a moment that you are bad, although your size cannot be refuted. I have travelled enough to recognise one of the builders, Alantin, but I have to say I would like to know more.†Eyeing the venison, she thought of tender steaks griddled over a fire and served with some mushrooms fried in butter. Or thick chunks made into a quick stew. Her mouth started watering and her stomach rumbled audibly, reminding her of the fact that she had left the wagon without even thinking of eating – something she never usually did. Absently, Dilora ran through her list of provisions and added a couple of onions to the mix. She had a weakness for fried onions. Oh, yes, breakfast sounded very good.

 

“I would be honoured if you would join me for breakfast. If it pleases you, I’d like to know a little more about the Ogier as I mentioned before. A peddler such as myself of high repute and renown should be knowledgeable in all areas, wouldn’t you say? Besides, I am innately curious. My camp isn’t far from here, and we can break our fasts in style.†With a smile over her shoulder, Dilora lead the way back to her wagon, chatting animatedly about the state of the roads, the weather and how business was going.

 

“I managed to pick up some lovely Taraboner dyes, which I’m hoping will sell well in Caemlyn. The small quantities mean it won’t really appeal to the larger manufactories, but maybe a tattoo artist will be interested. It’s knowing where to aim your products that is the key.†She turned a little, absently picking up a handful of an unknown grass and adding it to the bucket - if all else failed she could burn it for warmth later that night. “Except that I’ve not got any needles… Oh well. Ah! Here we are!†The final few trees gave way to the clearing she had parked in, and Altie pulled at her tether towards her mistress’ outstretched hand.

 

“I’ll be just a moment.†And with that, Dilora retreated up the steps into her wagon, and emerged a short time later with a frying pan.

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Chuckling repeatedly at the woman’s comments, Forge pictured a first-thaw creek bed with the water gushing past the rocks and deadwood that blocked its path. That was what her words sounded like. They were in such an incredible hurry to get out in order to make way for the next to words to come. These humans were certainly excitable. But she seemed eager to share breakfast, and her mood seemed much lighter than he had expected. He was content to let it remain so. These humans often had strange ideas about showing their emotions, and he didn’t want to tread on tender shoots. He would let her dictate the proceedings.

 

One question was barely out of her mouth before another replaced it, though, so he simply walked along behind her as they made their way back to her camp, often looking down in amazement that such a little package could hold so much energy.

 

She seemed truly intent on learning as much of her world as she could. Forge understood that sense of purpose, perhaps he was the only one of his kind who could have. He felt driven as well, albeit by a different master.

 

When they finally reached her camp and the peddler disappeared into her wagon, Forge quickly laid out kindling and had a fire begun by the time she re-appeared with a skillet. Leaving her to her own devices as she busied herself with the breakfast preparations, he eased back to give her more room and prevent any discomfort his height might create. Plopping down with his back resting against a large Elm tree, he began to tell her of the Ogier.

 

“Ogier are not that impressive, my friend,†he began. “The trees are the thing.†Unconsciously rubbing the trunk of the Elm, he continued. “The Great Trees especially. They tower so high that it seems the sky perches on their shoulders. It is the Great Trees and the stedding that make the Ogier who we are, not the other way around. Sadly, most humans have never even heard of the Great Trees much less gone to a stedding and beheld them with their own eyes. But of course you humans have other matters that demand your time. But for Ogier, at least most of them, the tending of the Trees is all that matters. They remain safe in their stedding and let the human world pass them by, and they are content for it to be so.

 

“But I talk too much. You have no desire to hear boring talk of the Ogier. Tell me, what things have you seen. You must live an eventful life, traveling as you do.†Pausing thoughtfully, he added, “But while you tell me, perhaps I can help with the cooking while you wash your hands. The grass you pulled on our walk together will cause your hands to itch terribly if you do not clean them. In fact, it’s called itchgrass, and it can be a terrible nuisance in a garden if you can’t avoid it or destroy it.â€

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~Dilora~

 

If she hadn’t felt the initial warming of her hands, Dilora would have laughed at the Ogier – mistaking it for humour. Instead, she set the frying pan to one side as calmly as she could, away from the crackling flames and crossed over to her wagon with as much haste as possible. Hastily, she grabbed some soap from near her ingenious bed and scrubbed her hands in her rain bucket; small, bubbly suds floating to the top with the vigour with which she cleansed herself. They felt cooler at least. True, she’d have to change the water before she set off again, but the discovery was worth it. Dilora was unsure what use it could have, but she was loath to throw anything of potential use away. Maybe if she dried and powdered it…

 

“Thank you for the timely warning, friend Ogier.†Something occurred to her, and she looked up with eyes the colour of mahogany flashing friendship. “Oh, Light, where are my manners? My name is Dilora. Dilora Fashelle.†She would have extended her hand, but it didn’t seem prudent – not with the memory of the itchweed still on them. Returning back to the fire now the pleasantries were out of the way – maybe they could get back to talking of the Ogier and perhaps of trade! Diced mushrooms tumbled into the skillet and a knob of butter before she flipped the steaks over; the darkened side of the venison chops sizzling nicely under the morning sky.

 

Little burning twinges were besieging her palms, and she scratched at them, cursing under her breath and thinking of what she could do to cool the irritated skin. There were some leaves that, when bruised, would provide a soothing numbness, but she didn’t have any here and the preparation in order to make the balm was time consuming and rather stinky to say the least. Having sat in wait for preparations of the cream to finish, she could well remember how pungent it had seemed to her. Better have that scent than hands that itch like this! Rendered animal fat scented with flowers would have to do if she could find enough fragranced petals to do so and remember how it was done. Viewing something once or twice when young was not always enough for it to sink in, and so Dilora resigned herself to having itchy palms.

 

When she thought about it though, there was an old saying – an old wives’ tale no doubt – that having itchy palms was a sign of money coming your way. Or going from you, depending on the hand, but I’ll not believe that. I’m a peddler. I don’t have much in the way of money. It must be some sort of riches headed in my direction. The thought cheered her up somewhat at least.

 

What her new friend had told her about the Ogier was interesting from both a political standpoint as well as a trade one, because if they remained in their Stedding away from the influences of the world, they could not influence it either. It was definitely something to consider. Why, then, was this Ogier roaming free?

 

“I’ve always wanted to visit a Stedding.†Dilora announced. “Part of me would love a sung wood item, as I’ve heard so much about them and it would be nice to add to my memories. And maybe even my memoirs! As well as Ogier-crafted items sell, there is sadly more of a market lately for small metal items, and the Ogier are not as well-known for their metalwork.†The steaks turned once more, an indication of how close they were to becoming ready, and the clearing smelt of wonderful homey cooking, making Dilora’s stomach rumble once more.

 

“I take it then that you are like me, that you prefer to wander. Otherwise why would you be away from the Stedding?†Dilora was genuinely puzzled. She stared, watching their breakfast cook until she saw that it was done and set the pan down to one side of the fire to get plates. A loaf of bread would be nice too, if she had any left over. Attempting to stand, she did not see how her feet had got tangled in her skirt and as she straightened her legs she heard a small rip. Her face fell as she noticed the tiny tear in her skirt, the motion halted before it could widen and embarrass her further. Light! What to do now?

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“Thank you for the timely warning, friend Ogier.â€

 

“It is my pleasure, friend traveler,†replied Forge with a hint of cynicism.

 

“Oh, Light, where are my manners? My name is Dilora. Dilora Fashelle.â€

 

Rising and smiling broadly, Forge responded. “I was wondering when we would get to the introductions. Your name sings in my ears, Dilora Fashelle. I am Hamar son of Dain son of Maddic.†Adding with a formal bow, “I usually go by the name Forge, if it pleases you.†Pausing briefly, he looked at her intently for a moment, then offered a quick, “I will return shortly.†And with that he disappeared into the woods the way they had come.

 

Returning a short time later to the smell of cooking meat and mushrooms, Forge savored the aroma as he placed his traveling gear on the ground near the giant elm tree. Immediately she picked up right where she had left off.

 

“I’ve always wanted to visit a Stedding. Part of me would love a sung wood item, as I’ve heard so much about them and it would be nice to add to my memories. And maybe even my memoirs! As well as Ogier-crafted items sell, there is sadly more of a market lately for small metal items, and the Ogier are not as well-known for their metalwork. I take it then that you are like me, that you prefer to wander. Otherwise why would you be away from the Stedding?†she fired off in her rapid, human way as she put the finishing touches on a breakfast that smelled delicious.

 

Laughing softly, Forge answered with an amused grin. “Little bee, you must settle on one flower before you fly to another if you ever want any honey. Your questions come so fast I have no time to answer them. I suppose we may be like one another in that we travel alone, but it may be that we travel for far different reasons. The Steddings are beautiful, and if the Light shines on us then perhaps we shall both see one soon,†he added, carefully avoiding the answer to her question.

 

Turning away from Dilora and to his pack, he continued speaking as he knelt down and quickly retrieved something. “It is funny that humans claim to know so much about Ogier but really know so little. I have here something you might find interesting. This is from a time long ago when such things were necessary. Sadly, it seems the Wheel has turned and evil times have come again, making them a comfort to have at hand.

 

“The handle is of sung wood, and the blade was forged of the One Power,†he said reverently as he rose. Turning to face her, he held a wicked looking axe, one of a pair he carried. It appeared light in his hand but was actually about seven feet long.

 

Seeing her bent over with an odd look on her face, Forge tried to comfort her from what he suspected was fear. “Come little one, there is nothing to fear.†Holding out the sinister-looking weapon parallel to the ground with the hilt toward her in what he took to be an obviously non-threatening posture, he sat down cross-legged and continued to speak with relaxed ease in order to keep her from becoming more nervous.

 

“This is from the Age of Legends. It was forged to fight the Dark One and his minions, not little bees that buzz with questions. Come,†he said gesturing welcomingly, “take it. My Talents lie in a different realm, but sung wood should be appreciated and you did say you’d like to see some. It’s not for sale, though,†he finished laughing scandalously. “What would the Elders say!?â€

 

Now that he was sitting comfortably, he removed from his pocket a bit of some type of bulb that looked like an onion, offering it to her as well. “This is a bulb from the Soap Lily, and if you lather your hands with it, it will help with your itchy hands. It has a surprising number of uses, this little plant.â€

 

His stomach growled as the meat sizzled and the fire continued to burn, destroying the thing that it cherished.

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He studied a rose, which bloomed on her bronzed cheek. Smell of oranges permeated the scents of the day, conveying its mirages of changes to her. Colours of gold, crimson, azure. A blend of tawny and silver overlapped when she kicked up the patched skirt's trimmed edges.

 

Deep breath, now!

 

Emerald, thought she a bit dreamily, had been a dimmer phase to the wonderful gems eyes were. They were so because of what they were not, which was not empty - for the mirror of herself could be glimpsed, and the careful observer aware of the consumed reflection. His eyes defied the vacuum of everything by maintaining a limit of nothing. In having done so, she could be swallowed in those jades without warning. No reluctance on her part to immerse into His, to not so much join as to belong, not so much belong as opposed to being taken over, being absorbed, and in that giving of identity, forcing freedom, liberating herself.

 

He asked:

 

Missed me?

 

Hmm, best be cautious. “Sort of.â€

 

Sort of?

 

“Yes.†Yes she had missed Him. Tersely.

 

Fine then. I shall leave you to miss me more.

 

“As it pleases you.†Aha, she realised through the playfulness He misunderstood her, so there are some parts that are not absorbed by His absolute hunger, His tyrannical desires, His unexpected sweetness… All must be selfish in order not to be, and He is but a facet of the individual that I am; she smiles the suppressed bubble of joy released a flight or a spring from where it couched in bemused consternation, despite the flush in her cheeks, recalling the pursuing arguments He had ‘But are you not a mirror of me? Do mirror people have shadows?’ Of course we have shadows, but you are all Light in the flesh. Rhetorical to technical, they were just too different, even through carnival mirrors, she was scared to comprehend what she had seen through flawed lenses, and he mutedly gazed at her, at her attempt to avoid answering. “Good night.â€

 

He did not push further. I’ll be back later, child. Try to console yourself until then.

 

Breathe out.

 

To act or not to act was irrelevant as the product would be the same regardless of what the expense agreed upon manifasted itself to expression/possession.

 

Some things never leave you. Nothing is gone forever, but nothing stays unchanged, child. She examined her scars, the pathway most treaded... Time coloured her memories but they remain in the instant, inside her, a scab that was visible, causing the itch until it breaks, the fluid pouring out of her congested yearnings.

 

Could He have not noticed the guardedness of her replies? He does not want to see her needs, to be assured by Him, also to be protected from Him, and ultimately her own misplaced faith. For she is too suspicious, and much cleverer for the vigour of her general stability. Oh, the brightened shine of His eyes as they wandered to find the drink (how is the drink finding milord? Suitably well, I thank ye) dimmed her daylight, intensifying the pain in her swelled joints.

 

It was indeed time to go to bed. She had been poring over the ridges over which she had tranversed, the magic mountains that wore her entity thin, that fascinated her, as it always had, the aforementioned diffusion of one's identity. A reddish finger gnarled with the scars traced on her map the Spine of her life's course.

 

She saw His vision, of the many glittering Mirrors in the Hall beneath that mountain! The avarice in these jaded eyes gaudy and dross to others was delightful on Him.

 

The troupe of jugglers danced by a river; the winding streamers of brilliant flashes moved rapidly, slowing for a mere instant for the brain to record what the eye saw before going on, in that movement forward, manipulators conquer the winds which blew them and in turn was propelled beyond even the momentum of the puppeteer's own destiny. Circling women, or may-haps men with long tresses, flouncing and linked hands in giant whirling serpentine; they too were harried to tell whether the vigorous participants were young of any gender. Pretty, said the holy as they washed themselves and they moved on as Well.

 

How the phantoms of the past revisited, she could not have blasted them from her consciousness, even if she wanted, how could she hate? Hate is easy, child. No! She cried out, you have to care in order to hate. Many to fling yourself against that wall only to have it backfire.

 

The weave has captured my youth. She drew the needle through, and wounded the compact bun loose, as strands of glossy chestnut hair tumbled across her robe. Looking long and hard at the full length mirror, she could not say whether she liked or disliked her appearance. It was herself, and she thought she had rather been serene in her acceptance. His view of me had been through grace, mercy, and love...

 

She went to the hard cot that served as her bed, and laid herself down.

 

I am no longer a child. Sleep well and wake.

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~Dilora~

 

She could not quite believe she was holding something so exquisite. For once, the question of value had not even crossed Dilora’s mind and she stood there, gentle fingers itching yet tracing calmly down the wooden shaft of the sung wood axe. To be allowed the privilege was a rare thing indeed, and the chance may not happen again. She had smiled at the Ogier calling her “Little Bee†but her expression had changed to wonder as she had taken the heavy weapon from him. It was heavy, but it was more of a feeling of weight rather than a physical weight, as though the trees themselves were lending strength to the blade. Such a gift! This was definitely going to get a mention in her journal when she stopped for the night.

 

Then he gave her the gift of the soap lily bulb, something to ease the itch in her palms. That was a nice gesture and immediately forgetting about the tear in her skirt, Dilora crossed back to her rain-bucket and washed her hands once more with the pieces of bulb. “If you’re sure I can keep this…†Dilora asked over her shoulder to her huge companion, who merely nodded. “Good. Thank you very much, Forge.†She smiled and breathed in blissful relief as the root began to take effect on her irritated skin. “Thank you so much.â€

 

Hands now dried on her skirt, Dilora crossed back to the fire and dished up two portions of what she had cooked – venison steaks lightly fried with mushrooms, and handed a plateful over to the Ogier with some cutlery. Folding her legs beneath her, she sat, noticing idly how the tear had started to fray slightly. If it weren’t mended soon she would be vying with a Domani to see who was wearing the most scandalous dress! Light! Burn, I dropped my sewing kit the other week! Well, if she couldn’t fix it, she’d just have to change clothes, but it was unseemly for a peddler to not have something so prosaic and necessary as a needle and thread. Mmm, but breakfast was tasty! Cutting up pieces of the venison, Dilora studied her Ogier friend, Forge. More questions flittered around the edge of her mind like the little fluttering insects he had nicknamed her for. She decided to ask a couple.

 

“I’ve done a lot of travelling, you know. I was told to put my thoughts down in a diary – memoirs, that is, and to maybe submit to a printer. I’ve always wanted to be remembered, but not in the normal ways of notorious or famous. I want to be remembered for trying new things and travelling, like Jain Farstrider. Have you travelled far, Forge? What has been the most memorable thing you’ve seen?â€

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Taking the plate heaped with wonderful smelling venison and mushrooms, Forge grinned at the awkward picture he made holding such a tiny, human plate in his Ogier hands. Handling human-sized utensils always tickled his sense of humor. Nevertheless, he dug in with a fervor that only a hungry Ogier could match, listening to the friendly buzzing of Little Bee. Her questions never seemed to stop. Once again, he reflected that perhaps no other Ogier could have understand her urge to do something like he did.

 

â€Have you travelled far, Forge? What has been the most memorable thing you’ve seen?â€

 

The question shattered his pleasant reverie like a mis-hit hammer blow. He was unaware of anything around him as flashes of the horror in the Borderlands tore through his mind like a cyclone, recounting a day that had changed his life.

 

The only thing marring a perfect day had been the vultures circling in the distance. The stunningly blue sky and early summer breezes, the fragrance of fields of flowers in full bloom were the stuff of gleeman’s tales, but this story had no happy ending. As he walked alongside the Sheinaran patrol, he had sensed the dread that overcame the soldiers as they rode nearer, unconsciously touching sword hilts and fingering bowstrings. What at a distance had seemed just a handful of birds preparing to alight on carrion, as they approached became a frightening host of death eaters blotting hope from the sky over where only a village should be. The stench reached the horses first, causing many to nicker uneasily and balk. Inevitably, a stiff breeze brought the rank smell of corruption and decay to him and the men. The retching sounds of emptying stomachs and muttered, but heartfelt, curses could be heard the length of the column before the officers forced renewed discipline. Only a youth at the time, Forge gritted his teeth determinedly, his ears lying back flat against his head in anger as he forced himself to continue forward, unknowingly hefting his quarterstaff against his palm, hoping the Light would somehow change what his senses forecast.

 

Topping the last rise between them and the village, he and the Sheinarans looked onto horror. Bodies everywhere were impaled on stakes or posts or heaved into piles, most missing arms, legs, or heads. Vultures and ravens blackened the ground already saturated with the blood of the townspeople, many so engorged with the bloating remains they were too heavy to fly away. As the Sheinarans methodically began targeting the ravens with their arrows, with every so often a man trying anew to empty a stomach that he had long-since purged, Forge doggedly searched through the decimated buildings, looking for survivors, even though he wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be better to have died than lived through this. Trolloc graffiti was everywhere, smeared in the victims’ blood and entrails. Distantly he heard a scout report that the Trollocs had left less than two days ago and herded off several villagers with them, for eating later most likely, but it made little impact on him until later. He was staring down at the sightless eyes of a little girl, whose arms still clung to the doll someone had lovingly crafted for her, her mouth opened in a silent scream he would hear forever. Her legs were nowhere to be seen. Likely they were in a Trolloc belly somewhere.

 

Tearing down the buildings and building a bonfire took the rest of the afternoon and on into evening, but no one wanted to sleep here. With the news that some might still live, they ran into the night, hunting the monsters who were to blame. They made great time, if such things can be said when the innocent were still dying. But they pressed onward, as if the Light had blessed them, relentlessly passing the signs that the Trollocs were still eating well, with just a handful of men told off to bury what remained of the dead and catch up as they could each time they passed an abandoned camp site.

 

Six days it took for them to catch up. Six days in which nothing slowed them down and the recollections of the village horror urged them on. Six days in which man and Ogier didn’t sleep for the images that came as they closed their eyes. But on the sixth day, their vengeance was met. Not a Trolloc lived who had feasted in the nameless village.

 

Not a villager remained either, but perhaps that was a blessing, as well.

 

Coming back to the present, Forge looked at Dilora and smiled a sad smile. “Memorable?†he asked, pausing to stoke up the fire. “There have been many things. Beauty to stir the soul, and horror to devour it. I’ve seen the Mountains of Mist and the Dragonwall. The White Tower, and the Stone of Tear. Trees shattered by the cold in Sheinar, and lives shattered by fire in Cairhein. I’ve seen ruins left from before the Age of Legends and the ruins men have made on their own in this lifetime. I’ve seen wonders to make you thank the Creator and I've wondered why so few appreciate them.â€

 

Pausing with large forkful of meat halfway to his lips, he said almost to himself, “I’ve seen enough to know that the Dark One is reaching out to shape the world, and his is a hand I’d not want in the smithy.†Then almost as if he was reciting an old expression he added, “Sometimes you don’t want to do the job that needs doing, but it must be done.â€

 

Then, as if realizing he was making poor conversation, he let out a heartfelt laugh. “But that’s not what you meant, is it Little Bee? Tell me, what is it you want to do. It certainly isn’t to listen to the ramblings of a silly Ogier.â€

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~Dilora~

 

An ant walked unnoticed over Dilora’s boot, venturing from the long, verdant grass at the smells of their impromptu breakfast. Ordinarily, she would have recoiled from the tiny insects; even a lone one out scouting that had no real interest in Dilora except to share their repast. Ordinarily, she wasn’t transfixed by the Ogier’s tale of his travels, or by the light in his eyes. Ordinarily, she would have loved hearing every traveller’s tale, but this time Dilora was silent for a different reason. Long moments passed before she trusted herself to speak and shadows of a past grief played over her pale face like rain clouds marring the perfect late afternoon summer sun. Something in the way Forge’s huge eyes had been, haunted, remembered every little detail of some past event that had happened to him … it reminded her of the survivors of Caemlyn. Both a pair of unlikely soldiers, although the Ogier looked more the part than she did, but somehow she knew they were both life’s survivors. We both fight in our own ways.

 

Forcing herself to her prior cheerfulness was not too difficult at the thought of such kinship. True, Dilora really needed a strong drink and something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, but her heart was lighter in knowing that eventually, all survivors found each other and that life did go on.

 

“At the moment I want: a needle to fix my skirt and a memento of our wonderful meting, friend Ogier.†She laughed, becoming more of her former self with each passing moment. “Then, I’d like some more breakfast and maybe a drink. With regards to the longer term, hmm, I’d have to think about that.†She grinned and put on a look of extreme concentration, earning a booming chuckle from her tree-loving companion.

 

“I want to see as much of this land as I can, trading and peddling my way. I want to collect recipes, and stories, and herbs that can help people, and to write them in some sort of travel journal. I’ll not quite be another Jain Farstrider, but a girl can dream!†She threw her arms out wide in an expression of glee and her eyes shone at the prospect of little children wanting to read the Tales of Dilora Fashelle as a bedtime story, inspiring girls into more than hearth, home or the White Tower. It would make for an interesting read. Flexing her toes in her comfortable travelling boots, Dilora stretched, laying the plate down alongside her. An idle finger mopped up some of the juices as she pondered some other things.

 

“I would also like to defend myself better. Oh, I’m a dab hand with my bow and can handle myself with a knife should a deal go awry, but I don’t know if I’d ever be able to defend someone I loved, if I ever find someone. Most,†Dilora felt in a very confiding mood now, as though she could trust the Treebrother implicitly. “Most don’t want to share in such an intransigent life, but I don’t know as I’d give up the road for a man. I’d have to love him a lot to do that!†A deep and resigned sigh issued forth; a warm breeze in an already warm day. “I’d like to learn how to work metal too…†She mused, thinking that if she could make decoratively worked metal, they could fetch a pretty penny indeed. “I have so many questions and learn more every day. In case you didn’t notice, I’m a curious and talkative sort. I’m like that for a reason though – curious people are usually observant. Observant people live longer or in my case, get ahead of the male competition. A woman has to make a living somehow!†Dark eyes glittered with the challenge. “People also tend to underestimate those like me, which has also worked to my advantage in the past.†A shrug. “If only I could find a Domani to learn some tricks from…â€

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“Admirable sentiments,†echoed Forge, his ears flicking with interest. “Dreaming of putting your travels in a book is most rare. Humans often have little thought for what happens after they are gone. Books are great testaments for the generations to come,†then with more gravity he added, “If they read enough perhaps they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.â€

 

Easing over to the fire, he scooped up another plateful of meat and mushrooms, then before beginning to empty his plate anew he noted, “I may have a spare needle or two in my pack, if you have need of it. Domani women often do make good traders, so I can see why you would want to meet one. I don’t know if they would reveal their secrets, though.â€

 

Propping himself back up against the giant elm, he dug into his breakfast, talking around mouthfuls of the flavorful food. “It is good that you can defend yourself. It seems that few men expect a woman to be handy with a blade. But why worry about getting married? The female Ogier choose among us, with the two mothers making the decision even without the potential couple ever having met sometimes. They say that we would never get around to it if left to it ourselves because we’re too busy tending the Trees.†Laughing out loud, he revealed, “I don’t think I’ll ever have that fate. The Trees have never called to me, and my feet have carried me far away from any Ogier who would marry me off.â€

 

Laughing at the thought, he continued, “If it is metal working that interests you, perhaps I could show you a little bit. I’ve been around a smithy a time or two, so I could at least show you which end of a hammer to hold. It would be tough for you to pick up the skills at such a late stage in life, but not impossible. And if you are as determined as you sound, you might surprise even yourself!

 

“And I hadn’t noticed that you talked that much.†Laughing again, Forge finished eating as he searched through his pack until he found a couple of needles which he gave to Dilora. Then he began swiftly cleaning up the breakfast area. Soon he had finished and began to dig a pit to slow cook the remaining deer meat.

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~Dilora~

 

It was not every day that one got to watch a builder at work, much less one of the Builders, even for something as mundane as a fire pit. Dilora saw the muscles in the Ogier’s broad shoulders rippling through his coat as he worked, and not for the first time she felt hopeless and small in his presence in comparison. Had he made a comment about her age? Well, she knew she was no longer a sprightly young thing in her teens; the flighty, flirty girl that Dilora had been had long since changed into the flighty, flirty woman who had seen a bit more, known good times and bad and in general had lived a little. Still, she was only twenty-seven, and she did not consider herself to be old.

 

In short order, Forge had dug the pit, lined and prepared it and had put the venison on to cook. Putting the needles in her belt pouch for the time being, Dilora got up, took her belt knife from where it was tucked behind her belt and sliced off some strips of the meat to smoke on a cunning rack she had brought out from her brightly-painted wagon. Altie received an absentminded stroke on the nose as her mistress walked past, nuzzling at her hand so as not to be forgotten. Smiling, Dilora took a lump of candy from her pouch and gave it to the mare for once, the enthusiastic sound of crunching following. She could see the journal entry when she sat down to write some more in her mind’s eye already…

 

Today, I spent some time getting to know some more about the Alantin, brothers to the trees, from a charming representative known as “Forgeâ€. Odd for such a peaceful race to have a member with such an industrial nickname, especially given the wicked seeming pair of long-handled axes that he showed me. Neither bough nor bone would hinder one of those edges much and I’m not certain which it would pain him more to use it on. He is well travelled, literate and witty, and generous to a fault. A thought occurred to her and she shook her head, making some of the fine, dark hair held loosely at the nape of her neck escape their bond and fall into her eyes.

 

The day remained warm and sunny, scant clouds tripping across the eternity of the deep blue sky and the warmth enhancing the scent of grass, trees and the occasional gossamer-fine odour of sun-warmed flowers. Dilora considered going for a walk later to pick some to either dry for fragrance of fold into her clothes for perfume. She felt like a leg-stretch anyway.

 

“I’d be glad to learn a little bit about working metal, Forge, only, I don’t know if I have anything adequate to give you in return.†Digging around just inside one of the drawers of her wagon until she found the object of her searching. A small, rounded piece of yellow amber nestled in the palm of Dilora’s hand. Traders and peddlers knew the import of customer satisfaction. She had kicked up a fuss with a trader in Cairhien the first time she was there when a horse-faced woman named Merrill had tried to short change her. To prevent the bad publicity Dilora promised if the woman did not keep her bargain, Merrill had given her the amber stone, saying that Dilora should get it made into a hairpin, as it would go beautifully with her eyes. So far Dilora had not managed to get the thing set into anything, let alone her hair, so she had instead kept it as a tacit reminder to not let people and try and short change her. A work of naturally wrought wonder that some books told as being crystallised tree sap from long ago should be an ideal gift for the Ogier.

 

“On second thoughts, Treebrother, I would be honoured if you would accept this token of my gratitude.†Her smile lit up her face, causing her mahogany gaze to sparkle. “Now then, is there anything I need to do to help you with working metal?â€

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“I’d be glad to learn a little bit about working metal, Forge, only, I don’t know if I have anything adequate to give you in return.â€

 

Forge answered as he took his ease, sitting cross-legged with his back propped against the giant elm tree and savoring the smell of the slow-roasting venison, as he ran his hands over the axe hilt. The intricately carved head was inset with flowing leafwork, the unique trefoil leaves of Avendesora intertwined with vicious-looking thorns. The sung wood haft, which looked to have grown into the head rather than been shaped, bore matching scrollwork. Additionally, the haft had been etched in Ogier script… Though the burden is heavy, the work must be done. Have a care, for Death now rides on your shoulder … He had often thought on the meaning of the message.

 

“Dilora Fashelle, the pleasure of sharing knowledge is payment enough. You need offer nothing more.â€

 

He was unsure if Dilora had heard him, though, because she had disappeared around the side of her wagon after setting up a cleverly designed smoke rack. He would have to look at it more closely before she put it away. It struck him suddenly that his fondness for Dilora was because she reminded him so much of Lily. She had been exuberant and stronger than she looked, too. How he missed her!

 

“On second thoughts, Treebrother, I would be honoured if you would accept this token of my gratitude,†said Dilora as she appeared from around her wagon with a big smile on her face. “Now then, is there anything I need to do to help you with working metal?â€

 

Her radiant smile swept him away to another time and place when someone else had looked at him in the same way. Lily had the same color eyes, and her smile had shined like the sun.

 

Overcome with emotion, Forge temporarily forgot what she was talking about, and his ears fluttered furiously in embarrassment. Trying to regain his composure, Forge looked at the object in her tiny hand and was stunned anew.

 

“Amber!†he shouted, as he stared in amazement at the yellow-gold stone in her palm. “Oh, certainly not, Little Bee. I can’t take it. I am unworthy, and the work is small.â€

 

But Dilora, with an oddly sensitive expression on her face insisted, putting the stone in his hand before wrapping her little hands around his big one. He had no choice to take it if he didn’t want to insult her. But such a gift! The warmly shining stone might be as old as the hills, and she offered it to him as a token! How much like Lily this little human was…

 

After several moments had passed with Forge reverently looking at the stone, he answered her question, looking intently at her as he did so. “Well, Little Bee, if you want me to teach you about working with metal we must fly from here. We need a smithy to work in and time to work.

 

“It will take many years for you to learn the proper feel of a hammer in your hands, the right color the molten metal needs for various tasks, and so on, but I have no doubt that you can learn the craft. Tell me, though. Do you wish to become a master with steel or silver or gold? Or do you have something specific in mind? I may be able to craft something if you are in need. That is, when we find a proper smithy. I have some of my tools in my pack.â€

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~Dilora~

 

Dilora hesitated. She was loath to leave this place just yet, because her next stop had to be Caemlyn and she didn’t feel ready to move on at that precise time. Not scared, precisely, but unwilling to risk her memories of the place being rekindled just at nightfall which would be when Dilora’s wagon would trundle through the gates into the city proper. Still, she had been pleased at his reception of the amber, if a little confused at his facial expressions afterward. True, he wasn’t human, but there was humanity in those large eyes; warmth, compassion and was it … memory?

 

She smiled warmly, briefly considering what she would like to make with metal. Moreover, what would be the most useful thing she could possibly make? Without the proper smithy and the right tools, it would be difficult to craft anything really and short of more fish-hooks for when Dilora parked by a river or lake for the night, there wasn’t much she needed other than jewellery to sell. She knew she wasn’t that much of an artist though. Oh, given a design she could trace it if there were some thin enough paper, but other than that she knew full well her skills lay in other areas. Oddly, the designs on her wagon were of her own design, but beyond that it may as well as be an exclusive area reserved for artists.

 

“No, friend Ogier, I don’t know that there is anything I need, other than more needles. Fine ones, such as those that Healers use sometimes, or tattooists. Such specialist items fetch more money, I hate to say, but you can’t travel the countryside on smiles. I’ve tried that before.†In fact, Dilora had a small scar where she had been forced to defend her virtue one time while out of the road. She had tried to sweet-talk her way out of a situation, making promises she had no intention of delivering and had had to rely on her belt knife to force the issue. At the time Dilora had spent the night crying that she had been forced to hurt someone, but it had faded into a resolve to watch her back a bit more closely in future. Another reason for finding a Domani to teach her some tricks…

 

“I would like to go gather some flowers though. Dried, the petals and seeds can be turned into perfume or to make scented pomanders for ladies wardrobes. Fresh, the petals will make my clothes smell nice when I fold them in my drawers.†Another smile, this time for memory at the last time she had folded flowers in with her clothes. A cat had followed her around for days, trying to identify the smell and irritating Altie into some patch of jealousy that something else was following her mistress with an adoring expression on it’s face. “For some of the afternoon, I’d like to gather flowers and then come back to camp to sample some of your most excellent venison. There are some herbs I’ve dried in my wagon that will make lovely gravy, and I suppose I should really make some bread too. Then we can have sandwiches tomorrow!†She licked her lips at the thought of the tender meat between two slices of fresh bread, slightly salted and maybe with some greens from somewhere.

 

“Thinking about it, I suppose I should make some bread now and then go for a walk later.†Dilora stood, forgetting about the small rip in her skirts and crossing back to her wagon, she got out flour and a small jar that contained her yeast as well as some honey. A board from the side that was cunningly concealed by the doorway so that when she flipped a little lever, it would fall across the doorway to be a kind of counter to sell her merchandise from when it was raining too heavily to venture out. It also acted as her dining table, so she deliberately made it removable so she could eat anywhere. The board, Dilora set down by the fire and poured a rough quantity of the white powder onto the surface and made a well in the middle.

 

“Could you pass me a cup of water and a little of the fat from the roast? The bread won’t rise properly without it.†Dilora pointed towards the fire pit and watched as the Ogier got her the items that she’d requested. The yeast went into the middle, along with some of the honey, fat and some of the water and, rolling up her sleeves, Dilora started kneading everything together: pushing, pulling and generally taking out myriad frustrations of the road on the sticky and pliant dough. When all the ingredients were combined, Dilora pushed a strand of hair out of her face and left a trail of flour across one cheek. Grinning, she looked at the Ogier and started talking to him once more.

 

“So, Forge, tell me a little about the process, seeing as how we can’t visit a smithy. There’s no reason you can’t tell me a bit about making metal items while I beat bread for us.â€

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“So, Forge, tell me a little about the process, seeing as how we can’t visit a smithy. There’s no reason you can’t tell me a bit about making metal items while I beat bread for us.â€

 

“Hmmm. . . where to begin?†Forge replied, watching Dilora as she put together the beginnings of what promised to be another scrumptious meal. “I’ll try to keep it simple, so as not to bore you. I suppose it all starts with a forge, an anvil, and a hammer. Virtually any tool you could possibly need can be made by a skilled blacksmith with those three basics. Any steel tool can be repaired or refurbished by a competent ‘smith’s hand.

 

“The three basic tools of a blacksmith (the forge, hammer, and anvil) must be supplemented by a whole bunch of other tools from time to time, but every one of those tools can be made from the three originals. I believe that a blacksmith is the only type of craftsman who needn’t send off to buy tools if something breaks because he can always make his own.

 

“The most commonly used tool is a heavy cross-peen hammer that strangers to the craft might think has a handle rather longer than necessary, with the weight of the hammer depending on the smith who uses it, and of course an anvil. An anvil is the biggest reason we need to find a smithy, because they are rather time-consuming to make from scratch.

 

“A forge can be made anywhere, even from a campfire, but large-scale work requires a better-controlled burn because you need more heat. Back in the stedding, we used a great double-chambered bellows at our forge that most humans probably couldn’t even pump, but it works amazingly well. Then, you need some water for quenching the steel when you are finished, and just in case you need to put out a fire.

 

“You usually have three types of liquid to hand: water, brine, and oil. Each has its uses depending on how hard you want the steel to be,†Forge paused to see if Dilora was paying attention. She was, and she seemed very interested. So he continued, touching briefly on many subjects: the five techniques of shaping metal (drawing, shrinking, bending, upsetting, and punching), welding, heat treatment, and finishing. By the end, he could see he had given her too much to swallow and quickly he changed the subject.

 

“You mentioned making needles for tattooing and healers’ work. While I was at the Citadel with the Band of the Red Hand, I noticed that it was very popular amongst the soldiers to get a tattoo drawn on the body. The artists often used needles fashioned from fish and animal bones, which I’m sure I could carve for you if we caught some fish. But making some steel needles would be more time consuming, especially without a suitable forge and anvil handy. But if you have some wire in your wagon, I could probably manage to shape a few while you go for the walk you mentioned, that is if you want me to try it.â€

 

Standing up, Forge stretched, feeling the muscles ripple through his coat. It would be good to make something again, even if it was something as small as a few needles. It had been months since he had crafted anything but stonework.

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~Dilora~

 

“Wire? Yes, I have a little, but I use that for fishing to make hooks from. I think having bone ones would be better because they’re cheaper to produce.†She smiled, her mind never far from bargains. Her cool hands worked the dough until it was pliable and then she left it to rest in a large ceramic bowl covered with a cloth a short distance away from the fire. In an hour or so, it would be ready for a knockdown and then the final proving before she could put it on a flat shelf of the tiny oven in her wagon to bake for a while. It was more of a stove, really, that she could use for heating and some cooking when the weather was too bad to venture out of doors, but it had a small oven that didn’t add too much to the overall weight. Dilora’s mind boggled at all of the things involved with blacksmithing – she had thought it was merely a question of hitting a piece of hot metal very hard with something heavy. There, that was one loaf ready to prove – now, onto the next.

 

The ingredients measured out onto her board, Dilora started mixing them again; this time, she added some herbs to the dough to make a rustic loaf her aunt used to make and that would be sprinkled with some cheese about five minutes from the end of the cooking time to melt all over the top. It went beautifully with venison. Now, if only she could remember where she put that small cask of brandy … surely they wouldn’t miss a small amount…?

 

“I truly didn’t realise there was that much involved with blacksmithing. Honestly, I thought it would be far simpler than that, but then I suppose it is a recognised skill and a truly useful one.†A sudden idea occurred to her and she wondered whether it would be too cheeky to ask it after the Alantin had done for her, but it was the perfect opportunity and it would save her some time in Caemlyn. The sooner I’m out of there, the better. There is no real reason to be there, other than trade, and I feel the need to head north. If winter is heavy, spices will be in demand because the roads will be awful to cross… I can dry anything in the eaves under my roof and it will be good.

 

“I don’t suppose I could ask a favour while you’re here, could I? It has been a while since I had Altie’s shoes examined … would you mind having a look at them to see if any are in need of replacing? I would do it in Caemlyn, but I don’t want to stay any longer than I have to.†If he asked, Dilora would tell the story. If not, she would be grateful and not say any more than she had to. Either way, her bread ready for the next few days, Dilora was going to get as many things as she could done to keep her mind away from when she had to ride into town the next morning. The flowers smelt nice. The bread would smell nice as it was baking. Things would get better. Maybe she had better go for that walk now so that she could pick some flowers…

 

“Would you mind examining Altie’s hooves for me?â€

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OOC: sorry i took so long to reply. i'll try to do better! :D

 

IC: “Well, I could take at look at your horse’s shoes, at least,†replied Forge, easing up and stretching from his perch. “I’m not a farrier, because we Ogier have little need for horses, but discovering whether the creature needs to be re-shod or not should provide no challenge.â€

 

Striding up to the horse, Forge reached for its lead rope when Altie jerked back hard, rearing and whinnying in fear. “Ah, I should have realized,†he spoke calmly over his shoulder before Dilora had time to react. Without taking his eyes off the terrified animal, still determined to run away, he added, “Your horse, Altie is it?, isn’t used to Ogier. That’s no surprise. At least it shouldn’t have been,†he interjected with a chuckle that sounded like a swarm of bees the size of buffaloes. “I’ll just make sure she doesn’t hurt herself while I have a look.â€

 

Dilora had done a masterful job of tying her beast, and no matter how Altie struggled, escape was impossible. Keeping a careful eye on her teeth, Forge approached with gentle, low, reassuring whispers of “Easy, now.†and “I’m not going to hurt you.†Of course, Altie had no idea what was being said, but the calm, relaxed manner of Forge’s posture did have some effect. Altie quit rearing and pawing at the ground, but the nervous prancing, anxious snorts, and rolling eyes indicated even to the Ogier that Altie wasn’t calm enough for him to lift each of her feet.

 

Undeterred, Forge took hold of the lead rope, and slowly advanced. Altie, unable to pull away from the towering approach of the powerful Ogier, had little choice but to stand there. Reaching down to calm the horse with a few gentle pats, Forge quickly noticed that it wasn’t helping, as the horse continued to shudder nervously. Quickly assessing the situation, he decided on a new plan and lifted the horse off the ground like a shepherd would a little lamb.

 

Shocked to stillness, Altie froze as Forge casually examined each hoof, carefully ensuring that he didn’t turn the creature upside down. The examination itself took no time at all.

 

As he set the horse back down and made sure her lead rope was again secure, he notified Dilora, “You could use some new shoes, I’m afraid, but they’re not in terrible shape. If you’re looking to get on the road soon, then you could easily make it for a few more days until you reach a village.â€

 

Turning, he saw Dilora standing there, mouth agape, as if she had just seen the impossible. It only lasted a moment before she re-gained her composure, but he was sure he had just surprised her, or maybe scared her somehow.

 

Forge didn’t want to offend her by mentioning her shock, so he quickly said, “I suppose I should get down to the creek and see if I can snag a fish or two for supper if you’re wanting those bones for needles.†And with a quick look to make sure he had his belt knife, he disappeared into the forest to go fishing.

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~Dilora~

 

She’s seen some things in her time, but this took the pie. It struck Dilora as being very humorous – truly a funny event and she laughed into her hand, dark eyes crinkling with mirth. Possessing of a fine wit and sharp peddler’s mind, she fit the event to a song and hummed a few bars of a suitable tune. Maybe one day she’d sing it while dancing on a table in some tavern or other … who knew what the Wheel would weave…? The song unfolded in her head.

 

“I’ve travelled over so many lands.

To Ghealdan and Caemlyn and Tear,

But never before have I seen such big hands

Than on the blacksmith Ogier.â€

 

He brought the meat that I cooked for the meal.

He explained that he was a smith.

I listened to all that he said with great zeal,

For this Ogier was clearly no myth.

 

I wondered if new shoes were my horse’s need.

I pride myself on her care.

A word, a gesture – the Ogier with speed

Had lifted the mare in the air!

 

The look on my horse’s face was a treat.

The poor thing was clearly stunned.

“Diagnosis complete! Time to re-shoe her feet!â€

And he put her back down on the ground.â€

 

New shoes, though … Altie would need to be attended before heading north. She sighed, how more of less reconciled to the fact that she had to face her past some time or other. As Dilora stared at the Ogier’s retreating form, she fretted; her smile falling off her face like snow over a doorway when it was slammed shut too hard. It felt as though Forge was unhappy about something, so she called out to him.

 

“Forge, wait!â€

 

He turned, teacup sized eyes looking back over his powerfully-muscled shoulder. Dilora smiled at him.

 

“If you go down the track a little, the river turns into a shallow lake with a waterfall. It is surrounded by trees and a very beautiful spot, with good fishing and it is nice to relax in. I don’t know much else about these woods, but I do know that!â€

 

She had camped by that lake fairly often – the fact that it was sheltered meant it was an ideal stopover and a good place for bathing as well as washing her clothes. With a line strung between her wagon and the trees, Dilora had found it to be a resort of sorts when she wanted to get away from it all. It was the least she could do in repayment for checking the state of Altie’s shoes. He could fish while Dilly gathered flowers, and then back to camp tonight, going into Caemlyn proper in the morning.

 

“When I leave Caemlyn, I’ll be heading north up to the Borderlands via Tar Valon. If you would like to accompany me, I would love to have you along.†She considered the size of her wagon, wondering how they would both fit in its limited shelter, but she thought it would be easy to buy a sheet of stout material or even oiled silk to make a tent from. Yes, that would be as cosy as she could make it, and give Forge his privacy too. There were plenty of blankets and cushions in the wagon to make it comfortable for anyone that wanted to stay with her. True, she was used to travelling alone – well, except for Altie, but Dilora felt a little company would be nice for a change. Yes, they could work admirably if he wished to go with her.

 

“What do you say?â€

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Forge wasn’t sure what to say. He had never thought of traveling with a human like Dilora before. His presence often attracted trouble, so he normally journeyed alone, or sometimes in the company of soldiers for short periods, in order to spare his companions from the violence he found all too frequently. But Dilora was a very intelligent, well-traveled woman, and if she wished to share his company, then he couldn’t see why not. The conversation would certainly be enjoyable. Besides, it had been quite a while since he had seen Tar Valon, and going there and to the Borderlands would surely provide ample opportunities to see how things in the world were developing. At least, the things he was concerned about…

 

“Little Bee, it would be my pleasure!†Forge announced with enthusiasm, smiling like it was the best idea he had ever heard.

 

Walking down toward the spot she had directed him to he couldn’t help but smile, his grin splitting his face from ear to ear. Today was a beautiful day.

 

Humming, he strolled along, savoring the pleasantness of the delightful turns this day had taken. Leisurely making his way along the river bank, he soon found the spot Dilora had described. “Aaaagh,†he sighed audibly, in appreciation of such an idyllic locale. It reminded him a lot of the Stedding, which he hadn’t seen in some time. It looked to be a marvelous day to stretch out and tickle a few creek trout or maybe even a few rock bass, or maybe a nap, and the spot she had described was even more lovely than he had expected.

 

Now, to catch some fish.

 

Checking to make sure the sun was in his face so his shadow wouldn’t fall across the water, he eased back up the riverbank until he found a likely spot to tickle a fish. It was an outcropping that thrust out into the shallow, narrow riverbed but had been undercut by the water’s erosion and offered a shady spot for any fish that wanted to get out of the sun. He took off his coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and slipped his hands into the water and allowed his eyes to adjust then waited… it wasn’t long before he saw a good-sized fish treading water just inside his reach. With deliberate patience, he eased his hands up behind the rock bass, and quick as a wink, scooped it up with a splash and onto the bank. The two-pound fish was just the right size for good eating, but it would take several more if he wanted to get full later, but his quick success promised a fruitful outing.

 

Finding a wispy willow branch, he cut off a long switch and slid it into the fish’s mouth and out through its gills on one side, then tied a knot in the supple branch, and just that easily, he had a stringer for all the fish he would catch today. Dusting his shirt and breeches off and picking up his coat, he eased upstream, looking for another likely spot.

 

Today was certainly turning out much better than he had expected.

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~Dilora~

 

With every step, Dilora squelched closure to camp and it was only the alluring smell of roast venison and of baking fish that kept the grin on her face. Well, that and the ride she had just been on, even if it had ended rather suddenly and wetly. The gathered blooms gave off their heady scent; slightly bruised from being jostled in her basket and warmed by the fading sun. Petals that would sell to fine perfume makers in Cairhien for a small fortune would fetch just as high a price with village soap makers and courting lads, but Dilora would not charge the same price to them at all. The Cairhienin scent-makers could afford it; the villagers that could use some cheer could not. Some petals would be kept for her to use, to give the neatly folded clothes in her drawer the smell of a summer evening in a meadow, and a large, white blossom that she tucked behind her ear, nestling it in the still wet strands.

 

Altie whickered softly at her approach, possibly smelling the stallion on her, as her ears pricked up quickly. Poor Altie must be lonely. The last horse she really got to know had belonged to the gleeman, Malic, who had fought alongside her when the devastation had hit that small fair outside Caemlyn. Dilora wondered how everyone was faring: Anton, Alianna and Malic, her companions for a brief time only, yet their faces were indelibly carved on her mind. Anton, whom she had danced and got merry with, Alianna, the former thief-catcher with the guarded look on her face, and Malic, the gleeman that had lightened her heart a little in the dark days that had followed. Where were they?

 

Shaking off such recollections before they made her cry again, Dilora walked into the clearing. Forge sat with an unfathomable expression, yet contented expression on his face as he worked what seemed to be a large fishbone with a tool that looked tiny in his large, capable hands. Was this what men-folk felt when they returned from work to someone that had missed them and a hot cooked meal on the table? Dilora smiled again and she flicked a cheerful wave to her Ogier companion.

 

“Greetings again, Forge! It looks like you’ve caught a good catch of fish. When we leave in the morning, I need to go into Caemlyn, but afterwards we’ll hit the road.†She buzzed with enthusiasm. “Did I mention how excited I am that you have agreed to travel with me? No? Well, I am!†Droplets of water fell from her clothes to splash on her boots.

 

“Forgive me a moment. I’m just going to get changed.†Noticing his eyebrows raise enigmatically, Dilora grinned at him. “Long story. Let me get changed and I’ll explain.†And with that, she turned and squelched up the steps to her wagon, leaving the basket of petals on a protruding hook outside. Wet clothes made way for dry. A warm woollen skirt in a russet colour draped to the floor and the pale yellow blouse laced loosely for comfort would suffice for now. It would also do for the morning when she ventured into the city proper. Her dark hair she unbound and brushed, watching it fall in soft waves around her shoulders and tucking the flower back in, Dilora left the wagon and walked into the darkening clearing.

 

“There, that’s better. How was the fishing then? Here, let me get some ale for us both and you cn tell me all about it.â€

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A full stomach, a tasty brew, his pipe with some Two Rivers tabac, and time to enjoy it… could life get any better? Forge didn’t think so.

 

As the fire dwindled down to coals, the 12-foot tall Ogier contentedly puffed on his pipe as he reminisced on the events of the day. His new-found friend had long since retired to the comforts of her bed, but he remained awake reflecting on the changes the Wheel kept spinning out. For an Ogier to be doing what he was doing was almost unheard of. In fact, it hadn’t happened since the end of the Age of Legends. But he knew his duty, and the undiscovered path was his to blaze. Meeting Dilora was obviously a part of the Pattern, but he hoped the pretty little human didn’t come to any harm because of him.

 

Quietly stirring the coals and making sure the dying embers were safe to leave, Forge rolled out his blankets and groundsheet as he replayed the day’s events in his mind. The fishing had gone very well, and he had caught a mess much quicker than he had expected, and returned early to get supper started. Although he wasn’t as gifted a cook as Dilora, he had prepared enough meals on the road to have some small skill, and he had started baking the fish with a favorite Ogier blend of herbs and spices that he hoped the little woman would enjoy.

 

With that accomplished, he had sat down to fashion some needles out of the fish bones. It took him a bit to get the hang of it because he had never worked with bone before, but it wasn’t too long before he had a sizeable number of suitable pieces. His punch and auger worked very well, but the work was exceedingly fine. Those unfamiliar with Ogier wouldn’t believe such huge hands were capable of such delicate feats.

 

He was still working at it when Dilora returned from her walk, squelching with every step and looking as if she had fallen in the river. She was bursting with excitement though, and after hearing her story he understood. A wild stallion? Amazing!

 

Turning in, he knew the little peddler was going to Caemlyn first thing in the morning. If all went well, they would be heading toward Tar Valon and then on to the Borderlands very shortly. He would have to unsheathe his axes then, he knew it.

 

And with that last sad thought, he drifted off to sleep as the night crickets sang a lullaby.

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~Dilora~

 

Another night. Another dream. For about an hour Dilora had lay in bed, listening to nocturnal noises to form a symphony and, finally unable to sleep she had sat up and reached beneath her ingenious foldaway bed to pull out her journal. A pen followed, and ink, and Dilora started chronicling the day’s events, including the song that had been floating around her head and the ride she had taken on the free roaming and spirited stallion. All in her neat handwriting, all intended to one day be published as The Adventures of Dilora Fashelle and be on every good-wife’s bookshelf. The last words scribed, she closed the tome of her life and put it back under her bed, hoping that now it was committed to parchment that it wouldn’t float so around her mind when she tried to sleep. No. Most likely it would be dreams of what happened in Caemlyn those months ago…

 

It was a complete surprise when she woke refreshed, not having remembered having dreams or nightmares at all. Maybe it was the company she had indulged in – it wasn’t often that Dilora spent such a pleasant time of it than with the Ogier. Forge. He was an enigma. He’d definitely seen more than he let on, but he managed to put a good face on everything. She could learn a lesson from him some days… The sunlight crept through her light curtains, warming her cheek as she lay there contemplating what she would get from Caemlyn to trade. Her mind was already set on spices of some sort, and a few other items, oh, and definitely medicinal herbs … just in case. One never knew what could happen on the road…

 

Dressing in the clothes from the night before, Dilora pulled on her boots as a finishing touch and went outside to stir up the fire. They’d have a light breakfast, if she could eat anything, and then they’d be off, heading into the busy swirl for a few bits and pieces, and for Dilora to trade. She folded her legs underneath her carefully so as not to tear her skirt. Again. She rolled her eyes at the memory of having more clothes to repair and got up and fetched her small sewing kit and the now dry skirt from her wagon. Altie whickered for attention. Light! It seemed like it was going to be a busy day today. Putting the sewing kit in her mouth and wrapping the skirt around her shoulders, Dilora brushed her mare down and gave her an apple from the pouch at her belt, humming softly as she did. She could not see any sign of the Ogier though … where had he gone off to?

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A horse’s nervous nicker woke Forge from a peaceful dream of the stedding. Easing up on an elbow, the Ogier looked around and saw Dilora’s horse staring attentively into the woods, with her ears perked.

 

“Ah,†mumbled Forge, “I wonder what’s got her attention now. Silly creature.†Lying back down, Forge had almost gotten comfortable when he heard the muted voices of men. Coming fully awake, he instinctively reached for his knife as his own ears pointed in the direction of the nighttime wanderers.

 

“I’m telling you, I saw a fire through there a bit ago, and I just heard a horse. It must be where those wagon tracks lead.â€

 

Forge clearly made out the voice as the speaker moved clumsily through the eerily silent darkness. “Why would anyone be out at this time of night?†he wondered sleepily. The next words, from the first man’s companion, answered the question with a chilling conviction that woke him completely.

 

“Well, it was only one wagon, so let’s hurry up and be done with it. There ain’t nobody within ten miles of here, so we won’t even have to worry about the screams. A wagon ought to have enough on it to buy a few drinks and there’s a gal in Caemlyn I have my eye on, but she likes trinkets. Oh yes, she does... Well, let’s get on with it.†The stumbling but cautious sound of the movement of men unused to moving through the forest drew closer.

 

“Thieves!†Forge thought coldly. “And murderers, too, from the sound of it. Agh, you can’t put off the pruning, or the weeds will choke out everything.†His decision made, and with work to be done, the giant Ogier rolled noiselessly out of his blankets, silently drawing an axe, and eased into the blackness surrounding the campsite.

 

He hadn’t taken time to dress or put on his boots, but that was no matter. Besides, his bare feet made creeping soundlessly even easier. Now he felt every twig before he placed his weight on it, so there were no snapping branches to alert his quarry.

 

If the vagabonds had been more alert, perhaps they would have seen the shirtless Ogier stalking them when the moon occasionally broke through the clouds. It would have been a terrifying sight. If they had been more skilled in woodcraft, then their noise wouldn’t have muffled the tell-tell sound of branches rubbing on the steel blades of axe and knife. But they weren’t.

 

Forge swiftly circled the campsite, coming up on the would-be killers from behind, his ears perked to catch their slightest sound, his eyes open wide to gather in the moon’s light. Pausing as he watched them survey the site from the edge of the clearing, Forge confirmed there were only the two of them. “Nasty, uncouth ruffians,†thought Forge as the blood rage began to fill him. “They should have been drowned at birth.†Standing there a mere few paces behind them, Forge silently seethed at the thought of men willing to take an innocent’s life for pointless material gain. His ears lay flat against his head, a visible sign of his anger. He was a terrifying figure, standing there in mooncast shadows with his huge hands gripping the giant axe and knife, poised to destroy, his teeth bared in silent fury. Had anyone seen him, he would have been. But no one did.

 

As the two men muttered that it was time and moved out, Forge agreed, striking with unbelievable speed for someone so huge. His knife struck first, piercing the back of the man on the left between the shoulder blades with such force that its tip exited just beneath his throat.

 

Some small sound must have escaped from the already-dead man’s lips because his cohort turned to look at him. Seeing the giant, muscled arm pull the blade from the now-corpse, it was hard to say which opened wider his eyes or his mouth. Trying to scream from a mouth that had suddenly lost its power, the thug impotently turned to face his doom, craning his head up in ever-increasing terror, opening and closing his mouth like a fish on a creek bank, until he stared Death in the face.

 

Forge stood like some giant executioner from a nightmare, his axe held high, poised to strike. The doomed murderer fearfully whispered a last second, high-pitched, “Please†before the blade whistled through the air and remorselessly ended all his fears.

 

Turning to look at the wagon, Forge stood silently, sprayed in blood, waiting to see if the commotion had woken Dilora. The minutes dragged on, broken only by the stamping of Altie at some night bug, before he decided his Little Bee still slept, dreaming no doubt of her favorite kind of honey.

 

Wiping his hand across his blood-spattered face, Forge paused to look one last time at the wagon before finishing up the night’s work. Checking the heavens, he saw the first hints of dawn were beginning to highlight the eastern sky, so he couldn’t waste time. Swiftly and surely, he cleaned his axe and knife on the coat of the less bloody body and crossed the campsite to re-sheathe them, the axe with his gear and the knife on his belt. Pulling on his boots and returning to the corpses, he hefted them over his shoulder, their blood smearing down his shoulder, chest, and back. Taking a few moments to kick some leaves and dirt over the bloodied ground-there wasn’t as big a mess as he had expected, he disappeared into the woods to dispose of the refuse.

 

He wasn’t much of a tracker, but it didn’t matter since the men had mentioned following the wagon tracks. Heading back along the trail, it didn’t take long for Forge to find the two men’s horses tied to a couple of tree branches. Deciding to take the horses to Dilora rather than turning them loose (there were wolves in this forest), he left them tied for the moment and ventured deeper into the woods. Finding a likely spot, a fallen, windblown oak tree, Forge dumped the two bodies into the shallow pit where the tree’s roots had been torn from and left. Such men had no honor in life, and he would give them none in death. The Creator could decide their fate, and the wild would reclaim their bodies.

 

With dawn breaking, Forge hurried to the small river and washed the matted blood from his body, hands, hair, and pants with a little soapweed and a lot of elbow grease. “I’ll never get used to this,†he grumbled aloud like a sad avalanche. He wasn’t sure if he meant the killing or the fact that men were so violent. Pulling his wet pants back on, and stamping into his boots, he gathered the two horses and headed back to camp.

 

“Hopefully,†he thought, “Dilora won’t ask too many questions about where I found these horses, why I’m soaking wet, or why I’m not wearing a shirt.†His ears wilted as he realized she always asked questions.

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