Melyda and Sammel walked silently, hand in hand, through the trees. Though the silence was becoming almost palpable, neither of them wanted to break it--both afraid that words might shatter more than silence. Finally, though, they couldn't stand it. They turned to each other.
They began laughing, but Melyda recovered first. "Sammel, please, let me go first." She took a step away, then leaned up against a tree trunk.
"Sammel, I know what you're going to ask. And no, my heart hasn't changed. You're dearer to me than most of my family, but I am not in love with you. And I honestly don't think you're in love with me."
Sammel started to protest, but Melyda forestalled him with a raised hand. "You know you only started saying you loved me after my troubles with my sisters--and your parents--started. The more they protested, the more you insisted, until you started to believe it yourself. I think you decided that defending your love against all comers was romantic, or some such notion. Sammel, you're in love with rebellion. You're in love with love. You're not in love with me."
Sammel turned away for a moment, and Melyda braced herself for the same arguments that they'd had in the weeks before she'd left Tyndar. She was startled, then, when he looked at her with a rueful smile and said, "Aye, you're right, Melyda. I think I've known that for some time, but it took hearing it from you one more time to make it really sink in."
Melyda blinked at him in bemusement as he also leaned against the tree, then slid down until he was sitting. He looked up at her. "Have a seat, and I'll tell you what happened." She sat down beside him, hearing the faint sound of cheering from the baseball game.
"When you left," Sammel started, "I thought I was devastated. I badgered your brother daily to tell me where you were heading, but you'll be pleased to know he wouldn't tell me a thing. I tried to send my father's men out to look for you, but they were under orders not to do so. The few who defied him and helped me, couldn't find you.
"After a few weeks, I was ready to start searching for you myself. But then my father became ill."
"Ill? How so?" Melyda asked, concerned.
"His heart. He is getting on in years, after all, and your situation and my defiance were probably quite stressful for him." Sammel smiled a bit wryly. "He had a slow recovery; he *would* keep pushing himself and suffering relapses. But he has regained most of his strength now."
Melyda nodded, relieved. Though she had had her differences with his parents, whom she thought were too class-conscious and too indulgent of their only child, she did still respect them. Tyndar and the surrounding countryside had prospered under their guidance.
"Anyway," Sammel continued, "I had to take over for my father--running the estate, serving on the town Council. I suppose it was good training for when I inherit the Lordship of Tyndar. But it kept me so busy, I found I was thinking of you less and less. When I did think of you, I missed you as a friend, not as a potential love. And then..." Sammel paused for a moment, then stared away into the trees as he spoke.
"A couple of months ago, we had a ball at our estate--for my birthday, though it was also a chance for my father to start returning to public life. Your brother and sisters were there, naturally," Sammel teased, "and so was Sarra Worthington. You remember her, I'm sure?"
"Of course. Lord Worthington's third daughter. Did you two start arguing about socio-political issues again?" Melyda grinned.
"Yes, though we did at least wait until we were alone on one of the balconies." Sammel grinned back. "But then...well, I don't really know how it happened. One moment we were arguing, the next we were...kissing. Rather passionately."
Melyda stifled her cheer as Sammel looked away, blushing furiously. She'd been hoping for this for ages, ever since those two had stunned everyone at Sarra's coming-out ball into silence with their loud argument over trade policies. The lordship of Tyndar was an extensive, and not always easy, one; the lord would need an equally strong lady if the estate and the city were to continue to prosper.
"After that night, I felt very confused," Sammel said. "I finally decided that the only way to really know where my heart lay was to see you again. I went to your brother and explained this--I explained rather more than I intended, actually. He teased me mercilessly about it--"
"I can imagine," Melyda chuckled.
"But he finally told me you were intending to come here. The next day, we received word about the planned Festival. It was the perfect cover story to use on my father. After all, it's cheaper to buy goods here than wait for merchants to transport them to Tyndar. And it's even more cheap if *I* bargain for them." Sammel turned a dazzling smile on Melyda, who laughed. Sammel Tyndar was handsome, charming, charismatic, *and* intelligent. She'd never yet known him to come out worst in a bargaining session.
"And so here I am," Sammel gestured broadly, indicating the forest, the grounds of the Bard Hall, even Montfort itself. "And now that I know where my heart truly lies, I hope we can be friends again?"
"Of course!" Melyda leaned over and hugged him. "Will you be staying for the whole Festival?"
"Certainly, and perhaps a bit beyond that. It'll depend on how my shopping expedition goes." Sammel stretched slowly, evidently pleased that he could be relaxed around her again. Melyda echoed the stretch, feeling the long day beginning to take its toll. The faint sound of dance music drifted through the trees to them.
"So when did you arrive here, Melyda? How are your prospects?" Sammel listened attentively as Melyda told him about her day--her warm reception by the Bards, the stall she'd have at the Festival, the numerous requests she'd already received. "That's wonderful! It sounds like you've got a great future here." He hugged her tightly, then hauled himself, and her, up to their feet.
"Come on, Melyda. I'm starving, and I'll need some fuel if we're going to dance."
"Oh, I don't know, Sammel. It's been a long day, and I'm getting tired."
Sammel wagged his finger at her. "Tsk-tsk, Melyda. You're not thinking. This has been a wonderful day for you, a lucky day. Why end it now? Who knows what could happen in the few remaining hours? You might meet the man of your dreams..."
Melyda laughed. "Who would turn out to be a prince..."
"And he'd insist on marrying you on the spot..."
"And whisk me away to his golden palace..."
"A palace filled, floor to ceiling..."
"With books!" They ended together. Laughing, they entered the lighted dance area, threading their way to the food tables. Sammel loaded up a plate while Melyda grabbed another piece of fruit and two mugs of ale. They found an half-empty bench and sat down, Sammel already applying himself to his pile of food.
"You know," he said, after the worst of his appetite was assuaged, "I'll dance first with you, but I'd better make my second dance one with that charming girl you introduced me to--if she's still here, that is. I don't think she approves of me, and I'd like to reassure her that it's all right for you to know me."
"An excellent idea, m'lord Sammel." Melyda clicked her ale mug against his. "Courtesy in that corner may help you gain the friendship of the Bards, and they're good people to know."
"Thank you, m'lady Melyda." Sammel grinned. They finished their food and rested for a bit, tapping their feet to the music. Finally, without a word, they stood up together, and Sammel whirled her into the swirling knot of dancers.
The ball was recovered from the salad bowl in which it finally came to rest and the game continued. Tarrah struck out the next batter quite easily, and the Elves roughed Karyn up for three runs of their own before the game was finally called on account of darkness. Elwynn offered to illuminate the field, but the suggestion was universally declined. It was, after all, time for the dance to begin.
The man in the black robes stood well apart from the proceedings. He watched as the big man who had hit the ball the furthest danced with the tall, long-legged Ranger. Elwynn Evindem, violin in hand, was playing a lively reel with some other members of the Bards. Karyn Silversheen was dancing with Dallan, the leader of the Rangers. The two made a lovely couple as they wheeled and spun about the floor. The little halfling girl was trying to teach the giant rat how to dance the springle-ring.
A cozy scene. Kieraan smiled, remembering when such dalliances had meant something to him. Let the fools dance. He would not disturb their Festivities just yet. But tomorrow the book would be his, and then....then he would call the tune.
The Oriental man, who was caught up in the action of the baseball game, saw that the game was over, got up and went to where the music was. Seeing the warm coziness of the people dancing made him quite uncomfortable.
"I can not stand to see myself dancing like that with a woman!", he thought to himself. So, he walked toward the edge of the forest and sat down to meditate.
He saw the exotic stranger leave toward the copse of trees that surrounded the Hall. Shrugging, Craig returned to keeping beat to the music by clapping. He approached Elwynn and the Bards who were playing the music and listened intently. He wondered if one day he would learn how to play an instrument. Of course, the chances of that were pretty good so long as he kept company with the Bards of Montford. Craig smiled at the thought.
In looking for Yasmael, ZwynGry saw the man with the strange shaped eyes walk over the edge of the forest and sit down and begin meditating. It was then that Zwyn got a positively juvenile thought. He shape changed into only a slightly larger than normal Sprite, and fluttered over to the oriental man. "If the bards are boring you so bad" he said in a high pitched female voice "I can give you some excitement."
Neeran sat in silence for a moment before he realized what Ishara had asked him. "I come from some village somewhere. It's been so long I've forgotten its name. As to why I joined the Security Force, Ishara, I just needed something to do. I've spent the last while sitting in the Dragon's Inn, feeling sorry for myself and trying to drink away the pain. So when I saw the notice, I decided to go for it. At least this occupies my time." He sighed, and his eyes had a distant look to them for a moment. He shook his head. "What about you, my lady? Where are you from and why did you join the Security Force?"
Upon entering the rough brush that laid near the edge of the forest, he took note of a dark robed man that was out away from the clearing. Not knowing whether the man saw him or not. The oriental man sat down, and studied the dark robed man.
"I know that man, he looks so familiar," he thought hard, "yet I can't place him."
He tried to think as little as possible about him and started to meditate.
As he meditated, he pieced together the mystery of the dark robed man. Little by little, the mysterious man's face became clearer and clearer to him. Then--
Takayoshi broke his concentration as open his eyes to a unusually large Sprite. Confused he responded, "Wha!? What did you say?! Oh, I'm sorry. No, I am not bored. I am just not a ladies man. By the way, who is that dark robed man over there?"
Takayoshi motioned the Sprite to look.
"I am sorry, it's just that I bumped into him a couple of days ago, on the same day of the fight at the Oyster Bar. Now, I see him there, as though he was connected to it. He also seems to interested in someone at the party. I...I just don't know. It's best we keep our eyes out, because I have a that feeling that something big is going to happen. By the way, my name is Takayoshi Toyokomo. What's yours?"
Zwyn smiled mischievously "I am called ZwynGry Durian, a peculiar name for a sprite, but then, I am a peculiar sprite. As for the man, I don't know who he is, but I haven't gotten out much. Let me ask you this though, who would be stupid enough to try something against this crowd? Enough warriors, mages and spell sing .. err .. bards that not even a starving dragon would want to stop. I'd suspect you are worrying a bit too much."
"I know I shouldn't worry to much, but that's the problem. I know better that he shouldn't, and true who would attack us. Yet, with him I believe he WOULD. Why I still don't know? Have you ever get that feeling that something will happen, even though, how impossible it may seem, somehow seems to be?"
Shaking his head in frustration, he continued, "Sorry about the confusion, it is just one of those things that really eats at you, figuratively speaking of course."
Rapidly changing the subject, as to not bring about boredom to this peculiar sprite named ZwynGry. Even the name was hard to pronounce for the oriental. "So you said, that you are a 'peculiar Sprite'?," a little confused, yet still bothered by the dark robed man, Takayoshi continued, "Please do explain!" Still, occaisionally looking at him, with suspicion, as he heard ZwynGry explain.
Zwyn laughed, the high meliflous sound surprising even him. "All sprites are peculiar you sillie!" he -- or rather -- she said as she swatted him in the arm and combined this with the creation of a great many multi- colored butterflys that seemed to spring from where his -- or her -- hand struck him and fluttered about for a bit, before flying away. "As for that peculiar feeling of doom, yes, I understand. If it worries you so, why don't you get a bit closer to him. You know, keep an eye on him. You can't very well watch a man in this crowd if you are just sitting there."
Looking at the butterflies fly away and at the spirited Sprite, the oriental man said, "Sure, Why not." He then whispered something under his breath and dissappeared. Whispering again Takayoshi said as his voice faded away, " More like that!?"
Just like that, the Oriental Man left and was not there! "Just like old times!", he thought to himself, "Just like with the clan."
Zwyn smiled when he saw the oriental man vanish, then realized that Yasmael *still* had not shown up. He shifted back into his normal self, then set out to find his friend.
In udder silence and stealthiness, the unseen and unheard oriental man stood 10 to 15 feet from the dark robed figure up in a nearby tree. He listened and watched his mysterious compadre, whom he now has positive identification of the man who bumped into him a couple nights ago.
"Only if my ninja clansmen could see me now," he continued thinking, "15 years since I left them, and now I can say that all the practice I still did has paid off!" Takayoshi's unseen smile was big!
He smiled to himself quietly, as he stood under the tree and observed the guards by the gate. Of course he knew the strange man had materialized above him, and was now watching his every move intently. Better to allow him the illusion that he had been undetected....it may prove an advantage.
He watched as the guards checked a party of three dragons at the gate. The guards were professional, and elvish, and they did not miss much. But they could not be everywhere, and that small break in the wooden fence had been just enough to allow Kieran to slip inside. He smiled again as he turned and started walking back towards it, giving his observer enough time to clamber down and follow if he wished.
As the stranger and black disappeared towards the fence, Elwynn Evindem strolled passed the tree and noticed the oriental fellow hiding in the branches.
"Hallo, there!" she said, "what are you doing in that tree, Takayoshi-san? You are too big to be a sparrow!"
The half-elf's black eyes went distant at Neeran's question and her general cheerfulness slipped away to reveal a woman who went through life the hard way: one painful step at a time alone. She sighed and began to answer Neeran's question. "Where I am from is far in the north, many days walk from here. I forgot the name since it has been so long." Ishara flicked him a brief glance. "Thirty years has past since I had been to my home. It's probably burned, taken over or lost in the wind of memories. I never knew my mother, she died giving birth to me. My father raised me for a better part of my life, a good ten years when he vanished, only to be replaced by a middle-aged man who said that he was going to raise me. That my father died."
Ishara sipped her cider. "He had been a member of the Thieves' Guild, and recruited me, a much more innocent me. He taught me how to pick pockets, steal precious items, stealth, climb walls and other various skills of thieving. I'm not happy about it, you know. I made a infamous reputation that most of the neighboring cities practically close the gates at the mere sight of me. Silverblade isn't my last name, I don't know it. The other members called me that because of my quicksilver speed and deadliness." She shrugged. "Twenty years ago I decided to leave the Guild and try to go the right way in life." A slight bitter- ness crept in her voice. "Much it did me. No one wanted a former thief, they always thought that I was marking fat purses for the other members. So....from one adventurer group to another, I came down here. When I heard of the need for recruits for the Security Force, I took my chance."
A genuine smile broke the seriousness in her face. "And I'm glad that Dallan is giving me a chance. I need it. Then, I hope, that will balance out my reputation." A rich chuckle. "I've certainly proved it with that flash powder."
Takayoshi heard the branch that he was laying starting to give way. "DOH!", he thought to himself, as his catlike reflexes, saved him by jumping to the adjacent branch. Then for some strange reason, he started to materialize!
"WHHHEEEW!", he breathed a sigh of relief, as noticed the dark man walk away, as though he didn't notice the falling branch. "Yup, he heard it. I knew he did. I would have, but what in the heck just happened. It could it be bad luck, I tell ya. If it is, It's going to be long night, I just know it...I just know it," Takayoshi thought to himself as his now visisble body hung rather humorously up in the tree. Seeing himself to rematerialize, surprised the heck out of him.
Wondering what happened, he looked around and saw that an elf had just walked up. Not paying much attention to her. He jumped down and brushed himself off, and looked at the ring on his right hand. "Darn thing I should have gotten it fixed either that or he's some anti-magic thing going," He whispered to himself, as he looked up and saw the female elf.
"Uhh, HI! I decided to just hang around, If you know what I mean", the oriental man said with a half-baked smile on his face. Feeling a little like an idiot and embarrassed, he just stood there for a second and asked, "Do you know that dark robed man who just left, because I strongly belief that SOMETHING is going happen? I don't know what, but..." He pause and started to chuckle.
He then thought, "Come to think of it I am still on vacation, and maybe I should forget about the man, NAAHHHH." Shaking his head with a big smile on his face, and continued, "Anyway, do you know or recognize that dark robed man, who was just here!?!"
"Dark robed man?" Elwynn asked, "You know, there are very few dark- robed men that you can trust these days. Did he have a big helmet with a scary face on it, and did he have a raspy breath like this?" The elf- maid demonstrated a few mechanical-sounding breaths. "Well, I suppose he didn't." she said. "After all, there are lots of dark robed men out there. Can't trust 'em, I say." She looked Takayoshi over.
"Well, you certainly know how to dress for a party." she said. "Come with me. I'll introduce you to the high mucky mucks. I'm in good with the Council and the royal court of Havenwood you know. Got connections. Can you sing, by the way? We're going to have a sing-a-long later."
Taking the man's arm she led him back to the party.
"I might as well take it easy, tonight. Yet I will keep my eyes and ears open for anything strange. I should be ready for any attack, by THAT man." Takayoshi thought as he followed the elf-maid back into the party, whom was fairly strong despite her appearance.
"About my appearance ma'am, I guess you can say that I have been to a number of royal establishments," he grins and continues, "To tell you the truth, I really don't like them. It's just that my friend, who happens to be an elf himself, likes to throw a number of these parties..."
Looking at her in slight frustration, "Alright, I am not really a partying kind of guy....My elven friend is just a king of a far away kingdom, and I just happened to be his personal bodyguard...on vacation, of course."
He then sighed and smiled, "I am sorry Elwynn, I just didn't want to sound stuck-up. About the clothes, I just wanted to look decently good." He grinned, and asked, "So what are you doing here? I mean tell me about yourself? I'm curious to know!?!"
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