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May 7th, 2003, 07:51 AM

"Yeah, I rode with 'em", the old man said, looking into his mug, remembering. "That was a long time ago, and I was a young buck then, all full of piss and vinegar".

"Times had been real hard in Crathia, for going on five years running. The crops wouldn't grow, bugs came ever year and ate what did grow, leaving us with little of nothing".

"We had unnatural sicknesses that left the healer women stumped. Stock died, newborn died, and wolves came out of the hills in huge packs, taking sheep and people alike".

"The root women said it was The Old Woman Of The Mountain. She was a witch that lived way up in the peaks. Nobody had ever seen her. She was just a legend, really, but the healers swore she was real".

"Then Baldur the One-eyed decided to use our misfortune to expand his fiefdom. His men began raiding, burning villages and we were forced to fight a war we were in no shape to fight".

"That's about the time they showed up. But I'm getting ahead of myself here".

"The way it started out was this fellow they call the Stranger. Nobody ever knew his name. I guess he was wanted in too many places to spread it around".

"He had come through here some years back, stayed a bit and moved on. He had since taken up with a lady Elda who lived in a little cottage by the sea, and ran a bar called The Den of the Dragon. e-Berry, they called her, and lordy, what a fine-looking woman she was. And hell on high, red wheels with a sword, son".

"Somehow he got wind of all this, and decided to come check things out. Well, lady Elda she decided she was going with him, and some crazy monk fellow, Cadfael, he decided to tag along".


They rode out before daylight, at the false dawn when the dew is still shining on the grass and the earth smells clean and reborn.

e-Berry rode the little white Arab, who was dancing with energy and making her chain mail trailers jingle like wind chimes.

The Stranger rode the right flank, riding the big bay warhorse, who looked to be in an especially foul mood that morning. Son, thet was the meanest horse I ever saw. Couldn't nobody go near him, 'cept Stranger and e-Berry. He stood a good eighteen hands, weighed a ton iffen he was an ounce, and thet hoss would kill you jest for walking by him.

Ole Cad he rode the left flank, all frocked up like a wandering monk. Ha, a monk with a big greatsword strapped to his back. Now weren't neither one of them boys what you could call little men, so flanking lady e-Berry they made quite a sight leaving town.

May 7th, 2003, 09:52 AM
The sun rose high in the sky as the three rode in companionable silence. e-Berry was humming softly to herself, Stranger appeared to be mumbling something - perhaps a private prayer or chant - and Cadfael seemed preoccupied in counting the birds wheeling in the sky.

They came upon a little stream, fresh-flowing, cascadiing down a shallow hill into a pond below. Stranger broke out of his "trance" and said, "Shall we stop and refresh ourselves? It may be a while before we find water this cool and fresh again."

Cad dismounted and stretched, saying, "We have hardly been on the way four hours. If we stop every time we see a little water we shall never make Crathia."

e-Berry was grateful for the little break, and went to the stream to drinnk. The water was indeed cool, and she removed her sandals and stepped into it.

May 7th, 2003, 10:36 AM
Stranger led the mules downstream to drink. They now had three mules with the addition of Cad to the group.

He sat the bay with a leg over the horn, relaxing, a longbow in hand, arrow nocked. His eye roamed the banks, watching e-Berry, keeping an eye peeled for moccasins.

Cad had just noticed that neither the Arabian nor the bay wore bridle and bit. Stranger had trained them both from colts as war horses, so they responded to their rider's knee and body movements. It not only freed a hand, it prevented an enemy from grabbing loose reins.

May 7th, 2003, 10:48 AM
Reaching down to cup some of the clear, cool water in her hands, e-Berry brought it to her mouth and sipped it, then stood and noticed Stranger still astride his mount. He smiled at her, and continued to peer watchfully around the terrain while she and Cad took refreshment.

Their seriousness of purpose did not prevent her from taking in her lover's striking appearance, poised as he was, seeming to be relaxed but quite on alert, she well knew. Her body grew warm, memories flooding her with feelings she knew she must ignore for the present. There would be time, perhaps, later....but they all must needs concentrate on their journey and impending task.

May 7th, 2003, 11:21 AM
Cadfael, take his refreshment and then once more looks at the sky. He lowers his eyes and look back along the trail they have followed... his brow furrowing...

"Are you sure you kept your plans secret?" He inquires of Stranger "There is no chance that someone was watching you?"

"As sure as I can be... you worked it out" Stranger walks his horse to stand at Cadfael's side... "Why... what do you feel?"

"Followed... that is what I feel" Cadfael replies

May 7th, 2003, 11:35 AM
Stranger looked back, trying to get a feel for it. Nothing. Still, Cadfael had good instincts. They would have to keep a sharp eye out.

Swinging his leg over he turned the bay from the water, pulled on the lead line and clucked the mules. The lead mule balked, sitting on his haunches stubbornly.

Stranger looked back, snapped the line and clucked him again. The mule glared at him.

Stranger dismounted. Pulling a pair of leather gloves from his jacket, he donned them, walking back to the mules.

"Uh Oh", Cad said, watching. He'd seen those gloves in many a barroom brawl.

Stranger walked up to the mule. They stared at each other. Stranger tugged the line and clucked. The mule brayed at him. And Stranger poleaxed him. A straight right hand between the eyes, and the mule went to his knees like somebody dropped an anvil on him. The Stranger is a big fellow, you see, and those gloves had small lead bars lining the knuckles.

Stranger stood impassively, waiting for the mule to regroup. When he got his senses back, Stranger tugged the line and the mule moved out eagerly.

Stranger nodded, mounted up and they rode out. e-Berry was mortified. She stared at Cad who chuckled.

"Got a way with animals, don't he"?

May 7th, 2003, 11:44 AM
The look Cad mistook for mortification was awe tinged with a tiny shred of fear. I pray I never drive my lover to anger, e-Berry thought. I know he would not willlingly raise his hand to my body in an act of violence, but I would not wish to be in his way in the midst of his fury.

As she rode up to Cad, she said flippantly, "And what are you staring at, Mad Monk?" Then, penitent for taking such a tone with a friend, she relented and said, "He is a good man to have watching my back, dear, and so are you."

May 7th, 2003, 11:50 AM
"And what a lovely back to watch", Stranger called over his shoulder.

May 7th, 2003, 11:56 AM
"His mother kept cats" Cadfael winked... "that is how he learned to control animals... mind you... they went through a lot of cats, and rabbits now I think about it"

E-Berry looks puzzled for a moment, and then her eyes open wide in horror..."NO!!!" she gushed..."he never! Tell me her never thumped a ca...."

Stranger begins to laugh.... and Cadfael raises a hand to his mouth...

"Oh you BEAST!!" E-Berry glares at him... "I cannot believe I fell for that!!!" She playfully punches him the the shoulder, Cadfael promptly falls of his horse...

Picking himself up, he rubs his arm... That workingout has done her a power of good he thinks.

Strangers chuckles become huge guffaws as he looks at Cadfael dusting himself down... "Och... up yer kilt!" Cad mutters.

May 7th, 2003, 12:10 PM
e-Berry is shocked that her friendly punch has managed to unseat a huge man like Cad - huge in the sense of stature, potency, and power, you understand, not girth - and she reaches a hand to help pull him up.

Overhearing his remark about Stranger's kilt, she chuckles. "There is no more room under his kilt, dear, he has more than enough already." And she blows the monk a kiss and winks.

Shaking his head, continuing to mutter, Cad climbs back on and the three continue on their long journey......they have days to ride.....