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"I know it's not common practice to stop for a couple of well-armed people, captain. I really appreciate your help." The captain of the ship Firefly nodded, then held out his rough hand. "Gratitude is all well and good, but I do be needing payment. You did say that you were able to pay." Mehrin nodded back, then withdrew two gold crowns, Andoran weight, from a pocket. Placing them in the captain's hand, Mehrin replied, "That should cover the ride." Reaching into a different pocket, he then withdrew a further three crowns. "And that should cover any added expenses we may have created." The captain's face remained expressionless, despite the coins. Mehrin knew that it was far more than the journey and food had been worth, but he could afford to be generous. The ship needed several repairs, and what he had paid the man would go a long way towards making them. I can afford to be kind. Of course you can. You have to assuage your conscious somehow, don't you? Shut up. Mehrin also knew that he was taking a large risk by paying so much. Anybody who had seen him pay the man would consider the fact that there was probably more in his possession. Mehrin was not worried about the crew of the ship; they had seen him and Eb exercising and sparring together on the deck. He doubted that any of them had a desire to end up wishing that they were dead. With practiced ease, Mehrin slung his travel sack over his shoulder and climbed the gangway up to the docks, Eb following behind. Once again on land and amongst people, Mehrin could feel his perception shifting, his eyes slightly unfocusing in order to take in as much peripheral vision as he took in direct vision. Immediately, two men in an alley drew his attention. One was fingering a knife, and the other looked as if he had a small club. Normally, he would have ignored a threat as miniscule as the two would offer, but Mehrin felt a need to vent some pent-up frustration. Stopping in his tracks, Mehrin turned to fully face the two, causing them to start upright from the walls where they had been leaning. With an exaggerated stretch he allowed his coat to open, revealing the bullwhip and knife at his belt. When he was sure that they had seen the weapons, he smiled coldly and tipped his hat in their direction, then turned on his heel and walked up the street towards the inns. "That was foolish, I know," he said to Eb, "but I feel better for it. Nothing like a good threat to calm the nerves." Stretching again, he fell into step next to her as they proceeded up the street. "We should find an inn for the night. I could use a bed that doesn't rock. Besides, it-" A flicker of motion in the corner of his eye caused Mehrin's head to snap around. Taking in the full detail of the alley and buildings next to it, Mehrin saw nothing of interest. There was a clothesline hanging in the alley, and the clothes were moving in the breeze. Nothing to worry about. "Anyway," Mehrin continued, "we can ask around, find out why the Whitecloaks are interested in me. I should probably not be the one asking the questions, though. Might lead to certain awkward conclusions." Something started gnawing at the back of Mehrin's mind, something that worried him. In a low voice he added, "Take care. There's something wrong." Glancing into the next alley, Mehrin saw another clothesline, and the worry suddenly dawned on him. The clothes hung still; there was no breeze. Eying the clothesline carefully, Mehrin muttered, "We're being watched." OOC: Go ahead and bring us to the inn. Noting weirdness is a good thing.
The Manetherendrelle- or the River Arinelle, depending on the person asked- came into view, and Mehrin breathed a sigh of relief. The past couple days of hard walking had been tense, leaving little time for conversation beyond warnings and directions. The river, though, provided a respite. If they had made it this far without being caught by the Children, then they were likely safe for the time being. It would not be too difficult to flag down a ship heading either towards Whitebridge or Illian. Either destination would put them out of reach of the Whitecloaks for some time, hopefully enough to lose himself- Ourselves, Mehrin corrected- to the Whitecloaks completely. An unspoken signal between him and Eb brought the two to a halt. Without hesitation, Mehrin dropped his coat and sword and dug into his bag, searching for a change of clothes. He had just spent several days walking day and night, with only a couple hours of respite between stretches of walking, to get to this point. Part of that time had been spent walking waist-deep in a creek to get to this point. He needed a change of clothes, and modesty was beyond him. As he pulled clothes out of the bag and began changing, he glanced at Eb. *Thanks for pulling me out of the camp," Mehrin said, the first real sentence between the two since their escape. Pulling his shirt over his head, Mehrin stretched, feeling the tension in the mass of scars all over his body. He took a moment to splash cool water from the river on his body before pulling a new shirt over his torso and discarding his trousers. "I know they're in here somewhere," he growled, digging through his bag. He shoved aside a purse full of full Andoran crowns- one of many- and pulled out a balled pair of trousers with a cry of triumph. Feeling human again, Mehrin looked at Eb, his face suddenly growing serious. "Now, then," he grunted. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"May you live in interesting times." -Curse attributed to Ancient China After careful consideration, Mehrin had decided that boredom was wasted on the boring. He had been walking for quite some time without the company of anybody but his own mind- not always a pleasant traveling companion- and he had had plenty of time to reflect on it. A soldier's life was made up of long stretches of boredom interjected with flashing moments of excitement, and Mehrin had come to treasure each long minute of boredom, often spent sitting around a fire with the few friends that he had and sharing a bottle. Excitement, though, managed to remain in the memories of those at the fire; every moment of excitement brought with it empty spaces around the fire. You think too much, Mehrin thought as he returned his attention to the empty road around him. In the long time that he had been making his way along the southwestern border of Andor there had been very few people on the road. A farmer hauling his latest produce was the most exciting thing that he had seen in the past week. Still, instinct that had been ingrained into Mehrin through years of combat and survival told him that all was not well. He was rather certain that he was being followed. The feeling had begun a few weeks previously, but whoever or whatever was behind him was sharp enough to catch the little surprises that he had been leaving to flush them out, and every attempt at ambush had been met with no success. However, during that time, the follower had made no attempts to harm Mehrin, which led him to believe that whoever or whatever was following him was not interested in attempting to rob him. Just as well. If the follower- if it even existed- felt like leaving him to his own devices then Mehrin was fine with it following along. Whatever was following him made no attempts to harm him, but it did not help him in the three bandit ambushes that had come up along the way. The first had been two former mercenaries, judging by their tattered uniforms, and they had put up a good fight; it had taken Mehrin almost twenty seconds to cut the two down. The second was an amateur with a warped crossbow. Luck had been with Mehrin that day, and the crossbow broke in half. The brigand had escaped with a broken and bruised face. The third had been interesting. Three men had leaped out from behind a rock. Two charged without hesitation, but the third had turned white and stammered out, "C-c-c-commander Deathwatch!" The two charging men heard him, and the charge turned into a full rout; Mehrin assumed the man who had spoken was a deserter. Sound in the distance behind him made Mehrin return to the present. The clop-clop of horses- several horses- had come to his ears, and Mehrin stepped to the side of the road to allow the horsemen clear passage. Riding into vision was a long line of men in blinding white cloaks. Interesting, Mehrin thought as the group- somewhere around one hundred, if Mehrin's quick count was correct- rode past him. Many of them eyed Mehrin, and Mehrin eyed right back at them. He had no quarrel with the Children of the Light; he had fought alongside them at Bandar Eban against the Seanchan, and he had even helped broker something of a peace treaty between them and the Band of the Red Hand shortly before they began construction of the Citadel. It was ancient history to most, but it provided Mehrin with some comfort; maybe he would not have to sleep so lightly tonight. Maybe the follower would decide to leave him alone, too.
"Do you realize how much of a risk this is to me? If they suspect..." "Be calm, Lord Captain. I have taken pains to make sure that your true allegiance is not suspected." Sitting in the Lord Captain's chair and smiling above his peaked fingers, Ayrik Drayven waved the white-clad man towards a chair on the opposite side of the desk. The man glared at him for a moment before he remembered himself and sat. Even without expression on his face, Ayrik could feel the cold anger radiating from the man. "What is this about, Dreadlord?" the man asked. "Oh, it's simply a matter of doing your job. I need you to track down a man." The Lord Captain snorted. "You mean that you cannot do this yourself? Are all Dreadlords so incompetent?" It was Ayrik's turn to glare. "Consider yourself fortunate that I cannot afford to make you pay for that." Pouring a tumbler of brandy from the decanter on the Lord Captain's desk, Ayrik settled back in the chair. "The man you will seek out is a great risk, and the glory for capturing him and executing him as a Darkfriend would be significant. In truth, I am actually helping you." "And why is this man such a risk? Surely he cannot-" "His name is Mehrin Mahrvon, though he used to style himself as 'Deathwatch'." The Lord Captain sat back, his face carefully blank. It was a moment before he spoke. "You want me to send men after him? And you want me to declaim him as a Darkfriend?" "He is dangerous," Ayrik said. "He has a commanding presence; people follow his lead. What's worse, he can inspire. If we leave him unchecked, what could he possibly become? He could conceivably take command of any mercenary band he wanted, and with time, he might even control the largest army on the continent. That's to say nothing of his combat prowess." Taking an appreciative sip from the tumbler, Ayrik added, "He is too dangerous to be left alone." "It's still damned strange," the Lord Captain said. "This had better work. Otherwise, my life here will become... interesting." "Don't worry so much," Ayrik said, standing. The air swirled in front of Ayrik, resolving into a gateway to what looked like a small village. "I have every faith in your abilities." With a mocking bow, Ayrik added, "Walk in the Light, Lord Captain." Then he was gone. ********** "You have a reputation as a bunch of brutal thugs who get the job done, no matter how high the body count rises." A scarred brute of a man grinned at Ayrik with a mouth that lacked both teeth and basic dental hygiene. "Yeah, we're the worst lot of troublemakers from the Aryth Ocean to the Aiel Waste. We know that. Still don't tell us what you want, pretty man." Arrayed around Ayrik were twelve more men, each more unsavory than the last. In the middle of the circle of men was a wiry-looking man, good-looking apart from a scar from his nose to his right ear. "What my associate is trying to say," he said in a smooth, refined voice, "is that we have yet to hear your reason for meeting us. I really do hope that you are not wasting our time without good reason." In response, Ayrik tossed the wiry man a purse, which he caught with an audible ring of coin against coin. "You have our attention." "Good. Money is no object. I need you to understand that before I tell you the job. It carries incredibly high risk." "I have seventy-five bruisers at my command, sir." The wiry man grinned proudly. "I doubt your little job is that risky." "Oh, really?" Ayrik asked sarcastically. "I assume that you will have no trouble dealing with one man?" The wiry man laughed, which cued the rest of the men around him to laugh. "One man? And money is no object? Who is he, Gaidal Cain? Artur Hawkwing? Mehrin Deathwatch?" "As a matter of fact..." There was silence in the group. The wiry man looked grim. The majority of the circle simply looked baffled. Ayrik suspected that it was a common condition for them. One by one, though, they started to understand, and their attitudes became mixed concern and bravado. "You really want us to go after Mehrin Deathwatch?" "He goes by Mahrvon now, but yes. That won't be a problem, will it?" "Only one problem that I see," said the wiry man. Raising hand, he rubbed his fingers across his thumb, the universal sign for money. "How much?" ************* "I'm told by my superiors that you are the most dangerous gang amongst the Darkfriends," Ayrik said to the twenty gathered men, each one armed in some way or another. "Poisoners, assassins, thugs, and various other dealers of violence." The five leaders of the group muttered quietly to each other, passing hand signals back and forth as they spoke. The conversation was disjointed, with entire sentences disappearing to signs. Ayrik held his silence, stroking the head of the raven perched on his shoulder. Finally, the five men seemed to reach a conclusion. "Dreadlord, we are as you say, but what you want is already known to us, and we are not sure if we are really the right men to come to if you want to strike out at one man." Ayrik shook his head, causing the raven to croak in irritation. "If you know why I'm here, then you also know that I would not send you after only one man if I did not feel that he presented a clear danger to the Great Lord and his plans." "Think of what could happen. Suppose he finds us out. Suppose, Shadow forbid, he bests us. You could very well be handing the man one of the Shadow's greatest tools to destroy." The man looked at Ayrik without the usual flinching that was common to other Darkfriends. He had worked with Dreadlords before, and they no longer held the mythical place in his mind that other Darkfriends seemed to hold. Finally, somebody who is not going to toady up to me. Too bad that I wish he would... Ayrik thought. "This is a problem with which we must deal. If we leave him unchecked, he will be able to rally troops behind him. It would be as bad as if the Horn of Valere were sounded." "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to check with our superiors," one of the men responded after some more of their strange conversation. "That's all I ask of you," Ayrik replied with a respectful nod. ********** The wind was blowing wildly outside the isolated cabin where Ayrik retreated to be alone with his thoughts. His mind was positively wild with the implications of what he had just done. Three different groups, three different motivations, and one target. The biggest target in Ayrik's life. The Great Lord himself had told Ayrik to seek out and destroy Mehrin Deathwatch, and now he had that goal in his sights. Three arrows pointed at the same target, and no matter which one struck first, Ayrik would be there in the end to see the mighty fall. "And so it begins..."