(part 4)<--Back Forward-->
After a careful watch of the game, the warrior-mage balked. Bowing slightly to Dallan, "I think I'll just watch." Then he added, "For now. Thank you."
The half-elf nearly choked on her food in a fit of laughter. The game looked like fun but she never had a knack for it. But still, it was intriquing and she felt tempted to ask either side if she could join. The only problem was that she felt a bit awkward about that idea so she just decided to watch in a very good feeling of contentment. But still, it was quite funny.
Neeran sighed as he looked for a place to sit. He held a plate of hot food in one hand, and a mug of ale in the other. He spotted Ishara and made his way over to her.
"Ishara," he began," forgive me for what happened earlier. It's a habit I'd developed when I was wandering a forest with my fiance. I didn't mean to startle you by sending you my thought. It's just a way I communicate. Anyway, I'm sorry. That's all I wanted to say."
Guilt raged in her. Ishara had no right to snap at Neeran, especially when he seemed so sincere. Swallowing back her shame, she made room for him so he could sit beside her. Then, meeting his eyes with her infinte black eyes, she said in a soft, low voice, "Neeran...I--it's nothing really. It's just that, when you spoke in my mind, it brought back... painful memories. You see...I once had my mind violated by a very skilled telepath. It frightens me but I think I could get use to it." She made an attempt to smile and nearly succeeded.
"And...I think we both should be apologizing to the other. It's alright, truly. In a way, I should be honored that you did that you wanted to share your thoughts, literally, instead of just voicing them."
This time her smile was genuine. "Please...join me. I want to see if Tarrah really will hit Karyn with the ball." Black eyes danced with mirth while deep within her mind she wondered if Neeran felt so comfortable around her that he would share his thoughts as he once did with his fiancee. And not to mention the implications in that word.
Neeran sighed, relieved, as he sat down. He smiled as he studied the game being played before them. "Quite an interesting, uh, game. What is it called?" he asked before taking a bite of his food.
Ishara took a long swallow of wine before answering. "Well, I've never played it, truly told, but from what I was able to overhear, it's called baseball. There are nine players on two teams and while one team is on the field, which is to say where Elwynn and the others are, the other team is to try and get as many scores before they get three outs." She went on the same vein, describing what she was able to hear from what Dallan and Talia said to both that strange Warrior-Mage and Takayoshi about the game.
"It seems interesting, doesn't it?" The half-elf asked once she was done describing the game.
Icarus had been searching for his wayward offspring for several minutes when he came across the kitten standing next to the dog and cat that had arrived that evening. He strode up to Cassiopia, picked her up by the scruff of the neck and gave her a little shake, then he put her down again and began cleaning her fur. Cassiopia had the same blonde hair as her mother, Lionette, while Icarus was a black short-haired tabby.
Unlike most of his kind, Icarus was a sentient cat. He had an intelligence comparable to that of humans or elves (perhaps a trifle superior, in his opinion), and his offspring were only a little less smart than he was. Of course, little Cassiopia was proving quite a handful, and there were six other kittens to look after.
Speaking in his native k'at, the feline apologized to the newcomers for his daughter's behaviour. Looking up at their human, he nodded slightly and said, "Meow?"
Melyda saw Icarus approach and give the little kitten a shake and a grooming. She guessed that he was the kit's father, though they didn't look much alike. He soon looked up and meowed at her.
'Great, now what?' she thought. She quickly decided that courtesy would make up for incomprehension...she hoped.
"Greetings, Icarus." She bowed, hands clasped in front of her. "I'm afraid I can't understand what you say, but I know you can understand me. I hope you won't be too hard on your...daughter, I think? I believe she was curious about my companion." She gestured to Ari, who dog-smiled at Icarus and the kitten.
"We were on our way back to the kennels. I'd be honored if you accompanied us there...if you've nowhere else you need to go, that is."
The Ranger stood up at the plate, and took the first pitch on the outside corner. Dang! Where did Tarrah learn to throw a curve ball? She popped the next one out of play in foul territory. Stepping out of the batter's box for a moment, she smiled.
Stepping back in, she saw the next pitch, another curve ball outside, but she was ready. She made contact, saw the ball bounce towards the shortstop, and ran like crazy. Her long legs carried her over ninety feet in a few seconds.
Surprisingly, Elwynn made quite an amazing play at shortstop. She went deep into the hole and snagged the ball, and, throwing off balance, rifled the ball towards first.
She saw the first baseperson stretch to catch the ball. For a moment she considered stepping on her foot, but she relented at the last moment, hearing the ball thud into the elf's glove a fraction of a second *after* she had touched first base. She listened for the umpire's call.
Having seen the close play at first, Takayoshi had a feeling that Talia was going to be out, because the ball did reach the glove *before* she arrived at the base (however, it *was* close!!). Trying to look as though he was feeling positively confident about the play, he looked at the other players, including Karyn, and said with his stern and serious voice to them, "I say she is safe, What do you all think?"
Icarus looked over to the baseball game. His companion, Elwynn Evindem, was standing with her arms folded, glaring at the Troll who was the field umpire. Thinking something was afoot, he meowed a "Wait a moment," to the human, hoping she would understand his tone. He waited and watched the scene on the field unfold.
The troll watched the play at first carefully. His enhanced troll-vision enabled him to resolve events to within milliseconds. And it was only a matter of 50 milliseconds between the time the human girl's foot touched the base and the ball slid into the first baseman's glove, despite Elwynn's efforts.
Suppressing a grin, he unfolded his arms and spread them apart. His deep voice resonated, "Safe!"
The elf maid stormed over to the troll, not stopping until she stood with her face just inches from his chest. Glaring up at him, she began a rather animated tirade in elvish, a rant which made even the roughest of the elvish soldiers nearby blush.
Melyda waited while Icarus focused his attention on the ballgame. She heard the call given by the troll umpire, and chuckled as the elven player stormed over to him. She blushed furiously, though, as Elwynn launched into her invective. The tirade was equally divided between remarks on his ancestry (which were, at best, scurrilous) and what he could do with himself (most of which sounded physically impossible). Melyda waited with keen interest to see the troll's reaction.
Thaddeus looked down at the blue-clad elf-maid who was ranting at him in what he guessed must be elvish. He recognized the tones, if not the words. Her antics were amusing, especially when she tried to kick dirt on his shoes, but that damn pointed hat of hers thrust perilously near his nose during her performance. Wishing to put an end to the annoying jabs the tip of her witch hat made at his face, he grabbed it in one fist and pulled.
Much to his surprise the entire elf came with the hat. Forcing a grin into a sneer, he asked, "Got a problem?"
The troll was much more convincing when she could look at him face to ugly face. Elwynn looked into the troll's sunglasses. She was close enough to see the Ray-Ban(TM) trademark engraved on the right ear piece.
She thought for a moment.
"Well, I suppose not. You were absolutely right. Thank you. Thank you very much."
She waited a moment. The troll's nostrils were still flaring. She caught a whiff of his breath. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a roll of candy.
"Bubble gum?" she asked.
Finally allowing the mirth carefully locked inside him to spill forth, the troll threw back his head and laughed, Elwynn's hat (and consequently Elwynn) still in his grasp. After a moment he stopped and looked at her pretty blue eyes. "No," replied politely and set her back on the ground. Thaddeus folded his arms across his chest once again and stared out over the infield waiting for the game to continue.
Melyda chuckled at the turn of events, and looked down to see Icarus's reaction.
Icarus watched his mistress confront the troll. He knew that Elwynn had a real problem with those creatures, although he was unsure of the reason. Predictably enough, the altercation ended without anyone being turned into a frog, or bashed, which was unusual when Elwynn had dealings with trolls. Looking up at Melyda he gave her a rather pained expression, letting her know that he had long endured his mistresses' antics.
Picking up his daughter by the scruff of the neck, he led them back to the kennels.
Melyda chuckled to herself at the expression on Icarus's face; she got the feeling that such exhibitions from Elwynn were nothing new. She followed Icarus to the kennels, stroking Ari's head and watching Icarus and Khale carry on a silent conversation.
When they reached the kennels, she went down on her knees and gave Ari and Khale one last hug, then turned to Icarus.
"Thank you for coming with me. I regret that we cannot really have a conversation, but perhaps someday I will learn how. I would love to become better acquainted with you and your lovely daughter." She stood, bowed, and walked back to the park.
Melyda headed first to the food tables; she hadn't eaten since breakfast, and her stomach was becoming quite insistent in its complaints. She hesitated a moment, then walked back to the baseball diamond, sitting on the grass well back from first base. She wasn't sure she was quite ready to join the group at the bonfire. She had a deeply reserved nature, and found it difficult to mingle with groups or make new friends. She hated that sometimes, but it was a deeply-rooted part of her, thanks to her childhood, and wasn't likely to change.
'Still,' she thought as she munched on roasted chicken and a variety of fruits, 'these people seem ready to make friends at the drop of a hat. Perhaps it won't be so difficult for me here.'
It was Craig's turn to bat. Picking up Talia's discarded bat he moved up to the home plate. Craig's large hands gripped the bat tightly as he tried to copy Talia's batting stance. He gave Jynna and Sir Connery a sheepish half-smile over his right shoulder before turning his head and his attention back to Tarrah the pitcher.
Tarrah's first pitch came in quick and close. Craig swung the bat clumsily, missing the ball completely. He almost lost his balance but recovered quickly.
As the ball slid neatly into her glove, Jynna smirked. She didn't necessarily *want* to see Craig fail, but if he was going to do it, the least she could do was to take advantage of the situation. The blonde elf stood up to throw the ball back to Tarrah, but paused looking at the tall human before her.
Despite his many annoying habits, he was starting to grow on her. Jynna contemplated being nice to him, perhaps crooning an encouraging word or two, but as her gaze flicked out over the field, she decided against it. "All's fair in love, war and baseball," she murmured to herself. Throwing the ball back to Tarrah, Jynna taunted Craig, "Is that the best you can do, Guard boy? No wonder all your prisoners escaped."
Shrugging, Craig adjusted the helmet on his head a little. Before taking the batting stance again, he shouted to the pitcher, "Tarrah, be easy on me!"
Tarrah caught the ball in her glove, and took a couple of moments to shake out the tension in her arms. Elwynn and Talia had neglected to mention how tiring this game was, nor how sore she was likely to be tomorrow. Tomorrow...the big day! Karyn hadn't found a replacement, she'd never even tried. Tarrah summoned her anger, trying to focus it into the next pitch. However, Craig still hadn't prepared himself at the plate.
She heard Craig's shouted question and smiled innocently. "Now... if I went easy on you, I'd have to go easy on everyone, and that just wouldn't be fair, would it?"
"Actually, it would be very *fair* for my teammates if Tarrah threw easier," thought Craig. Returning Tarrah's smile, he added, "Alright, I'm ready when you are."
Craig reminded himself not to concentrate so much on his own swing but on the ball. The key was to get good contact between the ball and bat. There would be plenty of force in the bat to launch the ball a good distance. Tarrah's pitches seemed to dip down at the last second. It was really strange. "Was it magic?" thought Craig. With Elwynn on their side, everything was possible.
Neeran smiled as he watched the game. It was quite interesting actually. He looked over at Ishara, and studied her for a moment. There was something about her, something different. Maybe even something a little familiar. Neeran couldn't deny that he was attracted to her, but he couldn't tell if there might be something more he was feeling. He shook his head, telling himself that his mind was playing games with him in the absence of Skydancer. Sky. He sighed, and wondered where she was. Shaking off the questions, he decided to focus on enjoying himself. Neeran returned his attention to the game and forced a smile to hide behind.
So far, Ishara was definitely enjoying the game. It was fun and cheerful with a few good-natured jokes by either side of the teams. The half-elf was enjoying herself immensely and the food was good also, to top it off. She couldn't remember a more fun time in her life but then, she didn't exactly had a good childhood. When she was born, her mother died giving birth to her. Her father raised her until she was about ten and suddenly was adopted by a man who said her father had died and that he was going to take care of her from now on.
At age ten to twenty, she spent most of her time learning how to be a thief and becoming an infamous thief known to neighboring cities and villages. At twenty or thereabouts, she decided to leave the Theives' Guild out the desire to have a normal life. Her reputation followed her wherever she went and it was difficult.
It was sheer luck Dallan accepted her. She vowed to make herself worthy of that trust and honor.
Suddenly she was aware of someone studying her and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Neeran looking at her with a strange look. A strange feeling grew at the pit of her stomach and her heart. Why did she suddenly feel so...strange?
Out of impulse, Ishara decided to drink what was left of her ale and hide the fact she caught Neeran looking at her strangely. Then her strange feeling encouraged her to look at Neeran and study him. Black eyes, expert in taking things in at a glimpse, glittered with her curiosity. Neeran was in fact--to her--a bit handsome but there was something magnetic about him, something that drew her to trust him-- even if he did accidentally speak to her mentally.
Her curiosity grew and she decided to encourage him in a conversation. Clearing her throat, Ishara said just soft enough for Neeran to hear, "So, tell me Neeran, where did you fare from? And, if you don't mind talking, I'm curious to find out why you joined the Security Force."
Rejecting another curve ball, for fear that someone on the other team might catch on, Tarrah threw the second pitch high and outside. As she watched Craig's swing miss the ball entirely, she began to feel a little sorry for him. "I'll give him one good shot," she thought to herself, "but not *too* good."
Tarrah wound up and threw a fast ball dead center of the strike zone.
Seeing the book-lady sitting over by the baseball game, Elanor Gammidge took leave of her mother and wandered over to where the lady was sitting. The diminutive halfling child stood behind the woman for a moment, her large blue eyes reflecting the slowly fading sunlight. Brushing back her blonde curls, she cleared her throat and said.
"Excuse me. Are you the new book-lady? My respondable guardsman, Sir Connally Walter Oldman Hoppman the Third, he's the one with the fur behind the catcher--lady, he said you had a whole wagon of books. I like books. Do you have a copy of "There and Back Again"(TM)?"
She paused for a moment, realizing that she was forgetting her manners, as she often did. She curtseyed smartly, and said, "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Elanor Gammidge, a halfling. I'm eight and a half years old."
Melyda bowed her head courteously to Elanor and smiled warmly, though she chuckled to herself over "respondable guardsman." "Hello, Elanor. Please, call me Melyda. I heard you practicing earlier today. I think you sing beautifully, and I'm looking forward to the musical. As for the book you mentioned..." She was suddenly distracted by events in the baseball game.
A resounding crack emanated from the bat as Craig made contact with the ball. Jynna stood up, her mouth open in amazement as the ball shot out at Tarrah, aiming directly for her face. Jynna cringed, expecting the ball to smash the healer, but Tarrah ducked quickly at the last second and the ball whizzed past her.
At that point, several things happened at once. Talia had broken for second even as Tarrah was winding up, and both Elwynn and the second base-person, Serena Moonleaf, ran to intercept the ball. Thus it was that four objects arrived in the general vicinity of second base at more or less the same time. Elwynn and Serena collided behind the bag, Talia touched second base and headed for third, and the ball skipped between her legs and over the prone bodies of the would-be fielders.
Fortunately, no parties involved were injured in the incident, however it did leave the human team with runners at first and third, and the stern, muscular form of Ixylm coming up to bat.
Melyda applauded the play, glad no one was hurt, and turned back to Elanor. "As I was saying, I don't recall seeing that title in the books I've looked through so far. But as I told Sir Connery, I don't yet know the titles of all the books I have. However, I should have time to start going through my inventory once I've set up my stall."
She rummaged through the small backpack that she always carried with her, pulling out Sir Connery's list and a stub of a pencil. Solemnly, she wrote down "There and Back Again" at the top of the list. "I'll send word to you as soon as I know whether or not I have it," she said, tucking the list back in the back. "Would you like to watch the game with me, or do you have to get back to your mother?"
"I think I will stay here." Elanor said. "I want to see the Big Person hit the ball."
She looked over to where Ixylm was taking a few preparatory swings in the batter's box. "Do you want to know a secret? He's in love with Talia the Ranger. Shhh! You have to promise not to tell anyone. Only me and Karyn and Elwynn and Craig, and Jynna and Dallan and Quinn, and Arioch and Rowena and Serena, and Fontaine and Vauxhall, and Tarrah and Icarus and my mom, and I think Sir Connally, know about it."
She paused for a moment.
"Toby might know too, but I haven't asked him yet."
Melyda's blue-grey eyes twinkled at the recitation of those in on the "secret." Certainly a noble group in which to be included. "Wild horses couldn't drag it out of me," she replied. "Though why a wild horse would want to drag anything out of a person, I don't know." She grinned up at Elanor.
The "Big Person" took his stance at the plate, and Melyda watched with keen interest, wondering if the humans would be able to score a run. But just as Tarrah was about to pitch...
The shout seemed loud enough to attract the attention of everyone in Montfort. Certainly, it interrupted the ball game, as everyone on the field paused to stare at the young man running toward Melyda, waving enthusiastically.
"Sammel?" Melyda half-whispered, hardly believing her eyes. She closed them briefly, a pained, exasperated expression on her face, then opened them as she heard his steps draw close.
"Oh, Melyda, I'm *so* glad I've found you!" Sammel knelt down beside her, captured her hands, and brought them up for a kiss. Melyda drew her hands back and smiled wanly at Sammel.
"It's...it's good to see you too, Sammel." Melyda looked around a little desperately and saw Elanor watching them intently. "Oh, let me introduce you! Sammel, this is Elanor Gammidge. Elanor, this is Sammel, a friend of mine from home." She let them greet each other briefly, then launched into more talk, before Sammel could say anything more.
"Sammel, have you ever seen this game? Baseball? It's quite fascinating-- let me explain it to you." She began a long, complicated explanation of it as Tarrah once again prepared to pitch. Only half her mind was on the game and her explanation; the rest of her was wondering how under the sun she was going to deal with him and when the surprises of the day would ever end.
The little girl stared up at the newcomer and thought for a moment. Something about this fellow made the book-lady a little nervous, that much was obvious, and it wasn't a good kind of nervous, either.
"Hullo." she said simply, and turned back to the game.
Melyda could feel Sammel growing more and more impatient as she spun out her explanation. Abruptly she stopped, relenting, and looked over at him.
"All right, Sammel. You want to talk, we'll talk. But let's go for a walk, have some privacy. Will you excuse us, Elanor?"
Sammel stood and tentatively held his hand out to her. She looked into his eyes and saw a quiet, gentle questioning in their green depths. She smiled and took his hand, let him draw her to her feet. Still hand in hand, they walked into the trees at the edge of the field, out of sight of the baseball game.
The young ZwynGry wandered to the field and began looking around, at those assembled. Chuckling when he saw the collision and wondered briefly what the person holding the ... log .. would do if multiple balls came shooting at him, or what those in the field would do if one ball got turned into several right after it got hit. Laughing inwardly he began walking around looking for Yasmael.
The big man strode up to the plate and looked out over the field. He saw the healer at the mound, and the blue-clad elf-maid not far behind and to the left of her. Ixlym studied the field. This game of "baseball" was similar to 'stickball' a game he had played much in his home town of Anfinel as a boy. He caught sight of Talia cheering for him at third base, and he grinned like a schoolboy. He would win her yet...
The first pitch dropped low and Ixlym let it slide pass him into Jynna's glove. The hamster called it a ball. The second pitch was fast but didn't drop as he had expected. Ixlym's bat made contact with the ball briefly, but the ball just popped up and fell foul.
"One strike! One ball!" the hamster cried out, as he realized he was starting to enjoy this game. One more strike and two more balls followed, and the tension on the playing field intensified. Except for the large man at the plate. He seemed confident and nonplussed as the last pitch came in hard and fast...
Sir Connery's jaw dropped open when he realized that the wooden bat had actually cracked under the force of the impact. He watched in stunned amazement as the ball sailed far above Rook's head, and kept going.
Ixlym's dark face split into a wide grin as he watched the ball fly 'out of the park' as Elwynn had described such an event earlier. He turned and saw Talia running towards him gesturing wildly for him to run. But he couldn't do that, not yet. When she reached the plate, Ixlym grabbed her around the waist and swung her around with joy. Then he set her down on home plate and jogged the bases.
The Ranger cheered as Ixylm rounded the bases, and when he finally reached home plate once again, she gave him another warm hug.
"My hero!" she said dramatically.
Raising his arms in triumph, Craig shouted, "That was amazing Ixlym!"
Ixlym's heart soared as he heard Talia proclaim him her hero. She was waiting for him when he crossed home plate, and he swept her up in his arms and kissed her deeply.
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