The ragged granite peaks bore the brunt of the winds force as it pounded down from the north. As the storm swept down their flanks, it left the Mountains covered in a thick, white, winter coat. It caught on the out crops of rock and gnarled trees, blasting the small knot of figures standing in the lee of an overhanging granite mass.
The snow whirled round the travellers; penetrating eyes, ears, and nose. Each fibre of clothing, and hair on the horse’s coat seemed to contain a flake of nature’s makings. The large iron-grey beast sorted its displeasure and tiredness. It shook its thick neck; covering the small plump figure at its head with a layer of half melted snow from its clogged mane.
A square hand, made rough by lye soap and hard work reached out and rubbed the creature’s wet, velvet nose. The woman felt the horse's warmth bleed into to her chilled palm. Her other hand was thrust into her armpit under the thin patched woollen garment that had once been a fashionable lady's cloak.
The linen bonnet she wore was no longer stiff with starch, but a wet rag, clamped to her head like a vice under the hood of her cloak. Strands of soaked dull brown hair stuck to her face which, even though it was round, still managed to have a pinched, haunted look. Her pale blue eyes set deep in dark ringed circles peered out at the shifting white surroundings.
As she lent against the steaming shoulder of the exhausted animal the snow began to drift against the hem of her worn and tattered grey work kirtle. Her felt-wrapped feet no longer held any sensation or feeling. Almost against her will she shuddered with the cold and sniffed.
The tall figure bent over the horses off rear hoof glanced up from his task of clearing the balled snow from the beast’s foot. With a sharp snap he closed his hoof pick, placing the instrument back on the twisted iron clip on his belt. The man straightened his back and brushed his long black hair out of his deep-set brown eyes. He carefully eased his long tapered fingers out of there wet clammy cows' hide covering.
'”Here,” he said against the wind as he handed the gloves to the woman. She gave a small shake of her head and declined his offer.
He took her hand off the grey’s nose and pushed the leather into it; closing the fingers with their ragged nails over the leather. The man took the greys reins. The animal snorted and curled it's thick lips back bearing yellow teeth to the white winter's glare.'”Don't even think about it?'” The man snapped, as he led it out into the storms fury.
The woman stumbled after through calf-high mounds of snow. As she came level with the man he took a firm hold of her arm. He held it until he felt her hands wrap through the back of his thick belt, then forced a path through the snow for her to follow. His long black wool coat dragged on the thick white layer as with each step he plunged deeper. The horse stumbled and heaved its way forward; its body's bulk acting as a poor shelter from the north wind’s howling force.
The beast floundered in a drift up to its brisket, squealed and struck out. It lashed upwards with its head; wrenching the man's arms nearly out of their sockets. He staggered forward and fell on his knees. The snow piled into the top of his scuffed leather boots adding another layer to his already soaked clothes.
The woman fell heavily against his back; muttering a curse as she pulled herself back on to her feet and tightened her grip on his belt.
The grey squealed again and lunched it's self onto a wind scoured platform of granite. The canvas bags and oil skinned wrapped bundles slapped the horse's flanks with the sound of wet fish hitting the monger’s slab. The creature stood braced, its shaking limps buckling under from exhaustion.
The man narrowed his eyes and peered through the white barrier the short winter’s day was fast coming to a close. The place he was hoping to reach was not far now he could sense it, maybe a mile or two. “Come,” He said to his companion, his breath steaming round her face as his hand lightly touched her chilled face.
February 3rd, 2004, 06:15 PM
They were standing routine guard on the upper doors, wrapped in the warmest clothing produced in a land of constant warmth, a paradox their bodies cannot enjoy, a company of three on watch for four hours, another threesome due to relive them soon. The doors are closed but not locked. Through the seems, under and over the great door, cold seeps in quiet as smoke.
The doors are closed but not locked. The object is not to turn folk away but be aware of their entrance.
The path back down to civilization winds through sufficient defensive walls to delay and then stop any enemy foolish enough to risk the High Peaks in winter. No, in winter, the High Peaks are visited mostly by refugees of one sort or another. The Earl of the Lower Realm does not turn away the occasional refugee.
Time passes slowly despite passionate arguments over “why did I volunteer for the guard?” and “who is the worst non-com the guard has ever known” and which is worse: morning calisthenics or evening close order drill. Stamping feet and pounding each others arms does little to reduce the chill. Watching their breath escape their nostrils does little to build confidence and bravado. The chattering of teeth works it way under protective psychic barriers and gnaws persistently at their sense of well-being.
Small in stature, equally slight in mass, but strong enough for the frame they wear, the guards carry their great knives and spears with well-trained ease. Never a thought, a stray temptation to rest their arms, to play at dice or light a pipe crosses their minds. They are soldiers all, aware of their duty, and damned certain the miserable life form known as their Sergeant would step into the cavern the moment they began any task but guarding the door.
When the alarm trips, their mental state is such all three begin scampering for the communication tube one hundred meters further into a warmer tunnel. All three start but all three stop in unison. Discipline holds them just as it was designed to do.
“Snarley, old buddy, it’s your turn,” Rasper announces as he turns on Cough, fully expecting an argument. Cough understands discipline, though, as well as his comrades.
“It are your turn, Snarley, and I swear the goddess is peeved at me that this are so.”
Snarley grins and scampers towards the comparative warmth of the communications tube station.
Rasper throws an additional caution after his disappearing friend” “Tell “em there’s time, Snarley. Whoever it are, them are still a mile away.” Looking at Cough, he comments there is no point giving the Sergeant any more to complain about than can be avoided.
The remaining guards of the Gnarled Folk return to their station staring at the great door as if staring will inspire the apparent refugees to speed their path to the door. At least then there will be tasks to perform far apart from the incessant boredom of standing guard looking at a door content to sit silently shut..
February 4th, 2004, 03:06 AM
A mass of carved stone reared up ahead out of the storm. Two travellers stumbled their way towards the looming grey shape. The horse's hooves rang out on wood covered in a layer of wind blown snow, complimented by the clank of two pairs of heavy iron chains as they swung and rattled in the wind.
Both sounds echoed down in to the deep slash in the mountains rock beneath the drawbridge. Two human and one equine shape made there way from the gloom of the winter sunset into the darker shadow under the gatehouse. Where the large iron portcullis hung over their heads like a sword, the metal vibrating in the wind.
They were on the threshold of High Peak. Before them looms the closed doors to the The Earl of the Lower Realm's domain.
The man leading the floundering grey stopped. His female companion leant against the animals withers her whole body shuddering from the cold. The man reaches out and pulls on the thick ice-limed rope and pulls, a soft muted clanging within announces their arrival and a small door cut in the large doors open and three guards of the Gnarled Folk tumble out. Spears forward, reddened noses running and eyes alert.
The guards eyed up the tall hook nosed man noting his hair, black as a crows and as long as a women's. The strands of which had been whipped into a wet mass, that clung to the neckline of the thick coat he wore.
Their gaze next moved to the horse. An iron-grey beast strong of leg and well kept. That was obvious as the horse, though swaying, was still on its feet after it's climb up here in the storm.
Which was more than could be said for the woman clinging to it. The creature was a mound of half frozen flesh. Her eyes half closed nose and face blasted red so by the chill of the storm. Runnels of half melted snow running down the woman's excuse for a cloak.
February 4th, 2004, 06:30 AM
The High Peak seems deserted, lifeless to those unfamiliar with its history. Folk living at the tree line and below share rumors and children’s tales about things that live there but lost to the memory of most races are the Koldred, less than life-sized forms scurrying beneath the snows, burrowing pathways and highways around the High Peak.
Prey and predator alike, sleek snow cats, barely edible hares, mice and mites, worms and bugs, and the people. The latter stand less than a foot high, half the size of the snow cats, able to ride the hares and hunt the mice. On clear days, they ride the surface but most days they stay in their natural clime, beneath the snows, hidden from prying eyes of the greater beings, divorced from the political maneuverings, hidden from magical manipulation, secure from interference.
On days such as this one, with the winds howling, snow and ice flying willy-nilly everywhere, the temperature above the snow so low that a rabbit might freeze in mid-leap, they run below the snow protected from the truly cold by the merely frozen. Running below does not mean running blind. Shadow and weight, sound and smell seep through the packs alerting the tribe that travelers move on the High Peak’s flanks.
Had they a government, the tribal lords would have their seat at the base of High Peak, a terrible rock forging into the frigid sky with the arrogance of the strong. Beneath its perpetual snow blanket the rock endures the passing of time as if waiting for the turning of the seasons, for the millennia when snow no longer rules the upper reaches and rock takes its rightful place above the lesser forms.
There is a seat below High Peak where the elders of the tribe are gathered for safekeeping, attended by the young, nourished by the tribe. The tribe lives a lesser span than the greater races, four of the tribe’s years race by in a matter of one year marked by the greater races.. Every scrap of hard won knowledge must be kept safe, available, useful to the tribe. When a Koldred manages to reach its fifteenth birthday as the greater races reckon these things, that one is retired, taking its own store of hard won lore, adding that of two other older than he through questions and answers run all day long, and answering the younger generation’s need for advice and guidance. Not rulers, not oracles, just the best advice available.
Where a person might expect a third or more of the tribe to be living this librarian’s existence there are just a dozen Elders in place today, down from the high of thirty-seven of a century ago. The Koldred’s life is harsh and unforgiving. Surviving to the fifteenth is more a matter of luck than skill, protection of the goddess more than a matter of individual might and right.
Tari, proud adult at 40 Koldred years, arrives at the High Peak tunnel excited, adrenaline pounding, aware the news she brings will unsettle the tribe. She throws the hare’s reins to a youngster passing by yelling instructions but not pausing to see whether they will be followed. Removing her helmet as she runs, her silver hair falls crazily onto her shoulders, She barely acknowledges those she passes and the abruptness of her passage draws these others in her wake so that when she arrives at the Elder’s place, a crowd has grown behind her.
Catching her breath, slowing down so that her words will reach all, she faces the Elders, bows respectfully, and then announces with appropriate awe, respect, and terror: “They have come.”
February 4th, 2004, 03:51 PM
Oooppsss Holbrook fumbled the ball and has been beaten round the head.
Post edited. It's HE's fault for confusing me with two races.....;)
That's the problem with these I have got a clue what I am writing until I start... lol...( I can't spell either...)
The man looked at the three guards; squat, nearly as wide as they were tall, and tall as his waist. Hair knotted on their upper lips and hanging plaited from their knobbled chins. Each wore a stout coat of plates, polished helm and good solid boots. They were the epitome of what they are and of their race. Dwarves of the Lower Realm.
He gives a short bow to the wee folk and asks in a voice roughened by the cold. "I…we," the man glances at his travelling companion. “Seek shelter for a small time.”
Cough looks at Snarley, Snarley looks at the floor and Rasper bangs the heel of his spear hard on the stone. Snarley winces and Cough clears his throat loudly. The man raises an eyebrow. “Your Lord does allow it? There are others of my… our kind here are there not?”
“What we have here lads” The Sergeant’s voice booms out as he scrambles through the door. Cough Snarley and Rasper, part and step back forming a wall of steel coated Dwarf behind their non-commissioned officer.
“A Traveller… travellers.” Again the man looks at the women as he speaks. It is as if he and she are not connected. Or that this journey together is one of convenience.
“And you wish shelter?” The sergeant rubs his bulbous nose and squints at the woman, finding nothing attractive in his eyes. Even among her own kind, she, is considered, too plain, too simple, and too bland to interest a mate.
“Yes,” The man replies, stamping his feet, the chill of the wind has increased. Cough, Snarley and Rasper’s teeth chatter together, the tempo of a fine dance tune.” Yes, and pay for it…”
“What with?” Laughter rumbled in the sergeant’s voice. “What of value can a man give a dwarf? “ Gems we wear as studs on our boots.” The Sergeant, points at Cough, who rises his foot, showing the glint of diamonds on the sole. “Gold and silver is two a penny.”
“I am a worker of metals. Skilled in the art of working the silver blue arian.” As he spoke the woman shuddered and glanced out into the wild snow storm as if wishing to flee.
“Soul metal? You claim?” The Sergeant began to chuckle, then stopped as the man held out his chilled slender hands. Marked they were, by the hot fire, slashed by the metal as it had fought him.
February 5th, 2004, 03:46 AM
The Sergeant’s breath was sucked in with a whoosh, his lips clamping to hide his astonishment. It did not do for a dwarf to be surprised by anything. He jerked a thumb at Cough, Rasper and Snarley and they bolted back through the hole in the main door. They scramble to rope, pulley and wheel. The main door opens, some five foot of it, the man bends, pulling the horse's head down as he enters, the woman shuffing at the horse's side, leaning on its wide whithers for support.
The sergeant leads the way down the sloping tunnel cut in the Mountain, his shadow flickering in the blaze of the smoky torches. Like the smoke, the travellers and their escort moved into the large cave. Whereas the smoke danced lazily upwards to the rock ceiling, seeking to exit through the shafts cut to the daylight. The small group fought there way through the remains of the day’s market. Here and there, non dwarf faces peered at the two humans, calculating, wondering. The dwarves far too busy trying to get the better bargain from there fellows ignored the damp trio with the metal glad guide.
Again they are swallowed up by a tunnel, guarded by more of Cough, Rasper and Snarley’s fellow guardsman, again a cave is reached, deeper this time in the mountain. Here the air smells strongly of horse, donkey and mule. The Sergeant snaps his fingers at a groom lazing by the side of a wide-hipped dwarf girl. The youth gives a gap toothed grin and ambles over.
“Wipe the smirk off, work to do.” The Sergeant says. “Take yon horse see to its needs. Stack the packs, not poke or look, none of your business and it be mine if you do. These be guests of the Lord.”
The youth reached for the beast’s reins. The man raised his left eyebrow as he handed over the leather of the grey’s harness. The lad now mindful of his charge encouraged the snorting stumbling beast towards its new home.
'Shall we continue?' The sergeant addressed the two remaining members of his party. The shabby woman seemed at a loss; bereft at the removal of her four-legged support. She seemed to sway a little, her pale blue eyes glancing all around. The man pushed back his mass of soaked hair and strode to her side
“Here,” He took first one then another of her hands and wrapped them round his left arm.' “Hold tight,” The woman gave a small nod. As she stumbled forward the Sergeant noticed her hands were clothed in a pair of over large riding gloves and the man’s own hands were bare.
The Lord of the dark Realm sat on the edge of the large oak table that graced the raised dais standing at the north end of the feasting chamber. It was from this wide room with its vaulted ceiling, and tapestry draped walls that the Lord ruled his domain and entertained his noble guests.
The trim figure(for a dwarf) of the Realm's ruler was still strong of arm and leg though he was finishing his two hundredth decade. His hair was cropped close to his scalp; his grey beard was also cut short unlike most of his kind. The Lord had a dislike of using his facial hair to collect bits of his dinner. The lines round his ice blue eyes had been etched by years of service to his Realm.
He was dressed in a long tunic and britches, the cloth of the finest kersey wool. The cut and fit showed that the garment had been made for him alone. The colour a deep red, the cloth unadorned by a tailor’s clever stitches. The Lord knew that the garments he wore were the best money could buy. He did not feel the need to elaborate on the fact by having them covered embroidery. This too went for his boots, the fine black leather simply cut and polished to a sheen that reflected the blaze of the torches set high in sconces round the room. He eased the fingers of his silk glove over the twisted digits of his right hand and sighed. He was bored. Nothing of interest had happened for weeks.
February 5th, 2004, 07:51 AM
The Elders receive Tari’s news with surprising equanimity almost as if “of course, they have arrived and what else did you think would be happening on a day like today?” One motions Tari to sit; another motions all gathered to sit. The Elders gather in conference.
“It’s time to tell the augury,” the oldest suggests and nodding heads indicate agreement. The youngest Elder asks “what augury?” and another realizes this one has yet to be informed. “It is the oldest knowledge we have,” she says. “It comes from the time before we came to the High Peak. We seem to remember it has to do with why we are here and what comes next. It also has the feeling in memory of terrible danger.”
“That’s all we know?” the youngest asks, incredulously.
“We know a little more,” another responds, “but over the generations, things get lost. A word here, a phrase there, and no one notices. It is why we set our lore to rhyme, the meter and the verse help us avoid losing bits and pieces.”
“So, why not with this augury?”
“It may be that we did but too late and some information was lost. We later generations lack the skill, the understanding, the wisdom to realize to what the augury tells us we know.” The youngest cannot conceal his annoyance as he asks for knowledge of the augury. Perhaps, he thinks, he will know what the others do not seem to know.
The Keeper of this bit knowledge recites without emphasis:
“Before the end of all things
There must be a beginning of new things.”
The youngest hears the warning and the danger and the terror implicit in the augury. Immediately, he feels the sense of impending doom he has already been warned is there and he humbles himself before the combined knowledge of the Elders. “I was wrong,” he says. “No,” the oldest replies, “you are simply young.”
“What else is there that we know? There must be something or you would not think the augury applies to these new arrivals on High Peak.”
“The Keeper nods agreement. “We know that a man, a woman, and a horse must make the climb in winter to be received into the Lower Realm. This has happened.”
Astonished, the youngest asks: In all our time on High Peak, these are the first visitors?”
“No,” the Eldest answers, “people, the great races and others have come and gone. They came singly, in pairs, in larger groups, on foot, riding horses and other beasts. What has never before happened are a man, a woman, and a horse in the dead of winter.”
The listening crowd murmurs among themselves at the wonder of the Elders’ conversation, a murmur that quickly subsides when the youngest asks: “So, what must we do?”
The other Elders confer among themselves, this conversation not loud enough to carry across the crowd so that Tari finds herself straining to hear and annoyed that she cannot.
Finally, the Keeper turns to the assembly. “A messenger must go the Lower Realm to announce the augury.”
“No one has entered the Lower Realm in the memory of anyone living,” Tari protests’, finding that she speaks for all the assembled Koldred.
“Our Lore says that a time will come when we must re-acquaint the Gnarled Folk with our existence.”
“Have they forgotten?”
“They may well have forgotten. We may have passed into legend. It doesn’t matter. The arrival of the three together means that evil is rising in the Outside World, an ancient evil, an ancient enemy, the reason we are here at High Peak. We cannot resist the evil alone. We believe that is the meaning of the augury.”
“So, who will go?” the youngest asks.
“I will,” Tari announces before any other answer becomes possible.
February 5th, 2004, 03:08 PM
Down tunnels, up twisting staircases and through smaller caves and smaller caves the couple are taken. First by the sergeant, the captain, then the major, then the squire attached to the Lord's household.
The woman stumbles more with each step, leaning on her companion reluctantly, unsure it seems of his ability to help. Yet their snatched, half whispered conversation speaks of years together.
"The metal..." The woman's first word falls with her stumbling up the first step in their climb.
"Enough...” His answer sure, positive.
"They have not the skill,"
"To work it, no. Thus in their eyes it increases its value. Worked even more. It is a dwarf's nature." The man tightens his grip on her waist and now the Captain leads.
"Their Lord tried"
"And failed, he has the desire for the polished metal."
"But time...” The women's eyes dull even more. It is if she is fading away, becoming nothing.
"Enough." This time the man's words are not so sure. His dark eyes dart at shadows and he asked his own question. "The enemy?" Now the major beckons them on.
"I will finish it." The words are from the heart.
"If enough metal...If enough time... If the enemy.... if.....So many ifs and so much unknown." The woman's words are spoken more to herself than he.
The man stops, as the Squire of the Lord's household opens the door to his master's feasting chamber. His hand goes to touch her chin, to cup it, to rub his thumb on her cold flesh. But he is as reluctant to touch her as she to receive his touch. His words though embrace, comfort and hold out strength for her to draw on.
“While I breathe lady. So much done, so close, while I breathe I shall not stop. If my hands turn to withered claws before me, I will direct another to finish the task. While I breathe the metal shall be worked, the sword made ready for the one who shall strike true with it. And while I breathe the enemy shall not touch you.”
The woman did not reply, merely nodded her head. The Squire coughed and waved the two into his master’s presence.
February 6th, 2004, 07:38 AM
The Elders do not rule but few ignore their suggestions. Yes, they agree, Tari may go. In fact, Tari must go but not alone. A warrior must accompany her.
“Why,” she asks. “Why must a warrior accompany me? What can the warrior accomplish that I cannot?”
“You are strong and brave, Tari,” the Eldest acknowledges, “and willing as well. Yet, one of the Keepers remembers a certainty that our ambassador must be accompanied by a warrior.”
“I need no such protection,” she huffs, hurt that her skills could be in question. Then, the words sink in and she questions: “ambassador?”
“The hope of the Koldred rides with you, Tari. What more can be asked of an ambassador?”
“What is my mission, then? I assumed I was to be a messenger. ‘Here, Gnarled Folk, is an augury. Do with it what you will.’ Then, I should return to you with their response.”
“Messenger, ambassador, and more. Take the augury but be not surprised when returning here with the Gnarled Folk’s reply is not the task you are called upon to perform.”
“What other task could there be?”
“That we cannot remember.”
His name is Tuli, same generation as Tari, parents still alive as are Tari’s. When one ascends to the eldest generation status becomes evident in the change from ‘i’ to ‘a’ so that Tari becomes Tara and Tuli becomes Tula. They are the second Generation T, forty-five generations before theirs occupied the High Peak. A simple mnemonic yet extremely effective in maintaining awareness of the Koldred roots, where they came from, why they are here.
Tuli is a quiet man, certain of his capabilities, feeling no need to make a show for others. Acceptance of his mission to guard Tari caused him no particular anxiety. Protecting the Koldred was his chosen task, narrowing focus to a single Koldred a matter of the moment and no more.
The pair were acquainted though distantly. Both had mated, raised children, and then moved on to the work they most desired, Tari as scout, Tuli as warrior. Now on the trail to the Gate to the Lower Realm, they spent their rest periods filling in the blanks in their knowledge of one another.
Rest periods come often. Only 1 foot tall, their stride in full flight covers about 9/10 of foot but their metabolism allows more rapid movement of their legs. One of the great races might average 2 ½ strides per second to achieve a mile in four minutes, a feat considered more than remarkable. For the Koldred, 5 strides in a second is reasonable and makes a mile in two minutes achievable but at a cost. Energy burned must be replaced so that Tari and Tuli carry rations in the packs on their back which they raid every five minutes during short rest breaks. While chewing and swallowing, the pair manage a few words as well.
Their packs carry another supply in addition to rations. There is a powdered substance, thrust on them by another Keeper, with insistent instructions they must consume the powder when they reach the Gate. “It will slow you down,” the Keeper explained. “To talk to the great races, you must slow down. They cannot keep up with the Koldred on any level but particularly in conversation.”
“What do you think that will be like,” Tari asked her traveling companion. “Will we be draaawn ooouuuttt sooo thaaat eevvverry wooorrrd weee uuttteerrr taaaakkeess aaagggeees toooo geetttt ooouuuttt ooff ooouuurrr mmoouutthhss?”
“I hope not,” Tuli grins. “I won’t be able to maintain my sanity if it is like that.”
Tari laughingly agrees. She turns serious then to ask: “How will they deal with the evil to come?” Tuli admits he does not know but he adds that there was a rumor among the warriors that the evil could only be defeated through sacrifice.
“Don’t ask. Rumors never have all the answers and neither do I.”
Rest over, they are one their way again, moving swiftly through the tunnels in the base of the snow, oblivious to the 30 foot blanket of snow above them, concentrating solely on placement of feet and watching the markers to lead them to the Gate.
February 6th, 2004, 03:23 PM
The Lord of the Dark Realm watched the two damp travellers enter his feasting hall.
A human male, nearly two dwarves high, dark of hair and eyes. Hands slender, yes... slender and strong and in the flickering light the weals made by the soul metal, arian glistened coldly.
A female, so pale as it be nearly washed clear, her features, bland and plain, her body nothing of note. Nothing but a moving dripping, shivering heap, yet the man guided her with care, aiding her stumbling steps.
The Lord smiled in delight, so it was true an Arian metal worker had strayed this way. He snapped his fingers and commanded as he stood." Food, mulled ale, warm furs and good quarters prepared for my guests. And sit, sir, madam." He waved his hand towards a bench close to the roaring fire in the centre of the feasting hall.
The man aided the woman to sit, tucking the offered fur round her frame and encouraging her to drink of the mulled ale. The woman set the tankard to her lips, unsure it seemed of what to do. The man gently helped her tipping the container, the liquid dribbling down her chin as she gulped and swallowed. She finally lowered the tankard and said softly. "My thanks..."
"No... No... its my duty as a host, you came to my gates in the depths of winter, it would be wrong to turn you away." The Lord's eyes wandered over the metal worker's hands then to his own crippled right hand. He had tried to work the soul metal and it had bit him deep. He had sworn then he would have gates to his feasting hall made of the metal, twisted arian shapes of creatures all. Now here was the means of making his oath come true. The metal worker would not leave until the gates shone, siilver before him.
"We thank you even so. "The man said, slipping a fur round his shoulders. He then took a pull of his ale, his eyes never leaving the woman. She sighed and her eyes closed, she becoming as still as if she was made of stone.
"Indeed, and who are you sir, who graces my hall this cold winter?"
"I am Lucas of Pithall, smith and worker or Arian. This is my companion..." Lucas hesitated then said, "Anna..."
"Anna, "The woman repeated as she opened her pale eyes. It was if it were the first time she had heard her name.
"Arian you say" The Lord rubbed his hands.
"Yes, and if my skill could be of service to you, in payment for your kindness?" Lucas asked setting down his tankard.
"Oh.... perhaps, yes....But first, rest a while..." The Lord again snapped his fingers to summon a servant to take the couple to good quarters. As he watched them leave the Lord called another to go prepare a good forge. As he spoke he turned the large key on his belt, the key to his store, a store of Arian.