Pavis back

Footprints in the dust

Waterday morning at the New Pavis Humakt temple

The temple courtyard has been busy since dawn, as warriors attempt to complete their sword practice in the relative cool of the morning. In the Praxian fire season only mad dogs and Agimori go out in the midday sun.Even now, a good hour from the sun's zenith, heat streams into the courtyard like molten glass, driving away any without good reason to be there. The viewing gallery above the iron double doors stands empty and forlorn.

Although the novice-master and his charges zealously swept and soaked the entire courtyard before dawn, the pernicious dust has slowly regained ground throughout the morning. The bronze Sartarite warriors thronging the place become grey ghosts, as the encroaching dust sticks to the sweat of their labours. Challenges and war-shouts are few in the sweltering air, and most of the noise in the courtyard is that of reed swords struck against one another and laboured breathing.

At the Legion's camp, after the dawn watch ceremony, Abul and Yenda took the chance to get a good report on the famous "White Death" swordsman during their visit to the Lhankor Mhy Temple. Having received the order to give his sword back to Egil, these three were now in the New Pavis Temple, observing.

Hengist the Mercenary and Yarran the Swordsage are watching a pale warrior as he practices, alone, to the left of the great statue. Hengist gathers his beard in his calloused hands and wrings a flow of sweat from it, splattering the pale dust with dark splotches. Finally he speaks: "Mmmm, so, is he any good?"

Yarran runs his palm across his bald pate as his considers: "He's either very good, or he's very good at looking very good, but actually isn't. Look at his feet."

Hengist raises his eyebrows in exasperation: "I note you've said a lot and told me nothing, true to your roots. Hmmm, they're very white and there's something wrong with his toenails, they're too short and smooth, like a womans. So, this tells us, what?"

"Look at the dust around him, the footprints."

"They look like footprints..."

The burly mercenary snatches at a fly in annoyance, missing: "...and it's too bastard hot to be talking in riddles today, Yarran"

The older man's lips curl is a half smile. "It's never a bad time to stretch one's brain, but no matter. He's got clear footprints around him: one there, where he changes stance after the high parry, and another out in front from the lunge. See, you can see each toe in the print. And yet he's run through that series of guards, what, a dozen times just since we've been watching. So he's putting his foot in exactly the same place every time, not deviating by the width of a fly's wing."

Yarran's tone changes as he speaks, falling into a measured deliver he is obviously comfortable with: "So he either only practices form, and a lot of it, to be that precise. That'll mean he looks good, but it's no good in a fight because, well, you know well enough Hengist. When's the last time you did what the enemy wanted you to?"

Hengist breaks off from quietly musing that the old man's tendency to lecture will get him killed one of these days, possibly by Hengist himself: "Aye, when I was fifteen, and it almost cost me an arm to learn that lesson. So he's all for show then?"

"Well, it seems likely, but there is the other possibility..."

Hengist knows better than to seem interested, as that'll just make the old bastard spin it out further. The mercenary feigns interest in the carvings on the nearby statue until Yarran continues. "Well he might be putting his foot there because that's where he wants it, but he could put it anywhere he likes with equal accuracy every time. In that case he's very, very good, but just as a matter of odds, it's unlikely. You don't get many that good, I've never seen one."

Hengist grunts, wrings out his beard a final time and rises to his feet. He hefts a heavy reed practice sword in his hand. "Well, let's go and ask the white faced bastard just how good he is, shall we?"

Leaving Yarran behind him, Hengist strides in front of the giant statue, to where the pale warrior performs his monotonous practice. Hengist assesses him with a practiced eye.

The lone swordsman is far from imposing, especially set against some of the physical specimens who dot the courtyard. He's not lacking in height, but not tall either, and far from burly. The pale bare flesh of his torso displays only a handful of tattoos, and none of recognisable significance, and is unmarked by heroic scars. Of course the fellow's been out here practicing since dawn, or before, and the fact he's not marked by a bead of sweat is positively uncanny, not to mention he should be the red of a boiled river crayfish by now.

He's working through a childishly simple series of guards, finishing with a single lunge. Even if he is a practice-ground warrior, with no real experience on the battlefield, you'd expect to see something a bit fancy. Something to make you go "that's impressive, good trick" before you cut him off at the knees.

Standing before him, Hengist lazily raises his practice sword in a casual salute.

The stocky mercenary might as well have saluted a water wheel, for all response he gets. The endless series of basic guards continues, low to high, turn, low again, thrust. Hengist notices that those curiously neat toenails land perfectly in the already clear patch of dust before him, and this fact somehow annoys him intensely. "Never seen a man for so much practice, think you've got it right yet?"

It seems the answer is no, for the only answer Hengist gets is another round of the series. The sounds of the courtyard seem quieter and a red flush darkens the mercenary leader's cheeks beneath his beard. He thrusts his rising anger down inside himself, and his voice is level. "Nothing wrong with a man who's not much for talking. Yarran there..."

He indicates the bald man with a toss of his head. "...does enough of it for all of us. It might be considered poor manners not to return a greeting mind. Let's see what all that practicing's done for you then, if you won't grace us with a simple hail."

Hengist swings his reed sword up fluidly into a low guard that mirrors the pallid swordsman, taking a single step forwards so their practice swords lie against each other at the tips. "When you're ready"

The sounds of the courtyard have definitely dropped away, and there are shuffling sounds behind him as warriors break off their practice to watch. Anything to break up the stifling heat of the morning.

The stranger's odd blue eyes looking directly at him quell Hengist's momentary concern that he's become invisible, or is dealing with a madman. Unbelievably, the blonde seems to ignore his challenge and continues his routine, rising into his high guard.

Hengist hesitates for a second, certain this is a trick to lull him and the blonde will cross cut from the high guard, rather than move into the step. A glance at his opponent's back foot shows, no, he's stepping away in a half circle, just as he has a hundred times this morning. Never one to second guess an opponent's idiocy in a fight, even a practice fight, Hengist lets him finish his turn and then cuts fast and hard.

Hengist's blow falls with a satisfying smack on side of the blonde's neck, raising a single scarlet line on the white flesh. The mercenary notices with wonder that his silent opponent ignored his attack completely and finished with his lunge. The bundled tip of his reed blade rests light as a fly on Hengist's adam's apple.

Feeling the tension drain out of him, the mercenary chuckles and lowers his weapon. "Hah, that's how real men fight, eh. Maybe we can have a rematch when you've practiced some more. Welcome to Pavis."

Still chuckling, the bearded warrior turns towards the courtyard, to evaluate how his performance went over with the onlooking crowd.

A dispassionate voice comes from over his shoulder, the Sartarite oddly accented. "I thank you for the match. A rematch would seem pointless until your skills improve, but I admire your spirit."

Hengist is actually nodding until the foreigner's words sink in. He spins. "You've not quite mastered the language, have you? It's not my skills that need improving eh? you lost that one."

The stranger replies as levelly as if he were commenting on the heat of the morning: "I would have killed you."

Hengist's eyes are flashing now, and his colour is up. His voice comes thickly. "Don't even joke like that fellow, or I'll match you again with bronze this time and leave you looking for your head."

"You would die. Such a death would be senseless, not fine. Such is not combat, it is slaughter. I will not fight you with a real sword."

This last drives Hengist's mounting rage beyond reason, and he struggles to get his words out as he hisses: "You stand here and claim to have bested your betters and tell me you won't fight? You'll fight and you'll die you whey-faced bastard. Take up arms!"

The fuming mercenary strides back in front of the statue to the seated Yarran. He reaches down and pulls a burnished blade free from its scabbard with a sibilant hiss.

As the mercenary is bent over him, drawing his blade, Yarran speaks low. "Look at the dust Hengist, it's smudged. He moved the lunge. Don't do this."

Hengist hisses low in the Swordsage's ear. "If you say one more fucking word to me about footprints Yarran, I'm going to kill two men, not one, this morning. Now shut up and let me fight."

Without waiting for a reply, the apoplectic Hengist strides back in front of the foreign swordsman. Waves of anger are pulsing off the bearded mercenary every bit as palpable as the sun's heat. The courtyard is deathly quiet.

Hengist's opponent has not moved. He stands, pale and sleight, the bundled reeds still in his hands, apparently unmoved by the commotion. This apparent nonchalance does nothing to ease the bearded mercenary's anger. "I told you to arm yourself. Fetch a blade or I'll cut you down where you stand as the coward you are"

Pale blue eyes gaze on Hengist unflinchingly. "I said I will not fight you with a real sword. I will not go back on my word. Attack me if you must, but I say again, this is a poor death."

Hengist considers a moment. "Don't think you can hide behind the code, stranger. If you don't wish your death a poor one, take up the bronze."

"Not my death, but yours. I will fight you armed as I am, if you insist we fight at all."

Hengist takes a final step forwards, the tip of his gleaming blade lying alongside the raised reed weapon of his adversary. "Then die like a fool."

The sun crawls relentlessly towards noon, showering glimmering spears of light down on the temple courtyard.

The space is quiet. Murmurs of broken conversation and the buzzing of flies seem strangely loud in the hot, still air.

Abul is fascinated by the expressionless face of the blond warrior. Using his smaller size, he takes a good place to observe the duel. To him, Hengist seems to be a southern gale, ready to unchain its energy and violence, while the stranger looks like more a cold and icy morning in the Jhor Mountains...

Two figures face off beside the great statue of Humakt. Hengist the mercenary, bearded and fierce, holds a gleaming bronze blade against the bundled reeds of his opponent.
Pale blue eyes gaze into brown.

A fly alights on the crossed weapons, buzzing greedily across the interface of metal and reed. It finds nothing of interest and takes flight.
A heavy droplet of sweat falls from the tip of Hengist's beard plait, scrawling a dark starburst in the dust.

Hengist moves fast. His bronze blade strews shards of light across the courtyard walls as he stretches into a thrust. The bundled reeds melt away from his blade, rising high.
The thrusting bronze meets empty air, as its target spins sideways in a half turn. The thrust is a feint. Gleaming bronze flashes high, ready to cut. A scarlet line on a white neck makes a clear target. The reed sword drops low and level.

Bronze cuts, reed thrusts. Everyone has been here before.

Hengist's larynx bursts with the sound of a chicken wing being torn from the carcass. The bronze sword clatters to the stones and falls silent. The courtyard is suddenly filled with the rasping sound of a man fighting for breath that will not come.

After what seems an eternity, the bearded mercenary falls twitching into the dust, his face blackening.
Somewhere, someone is calling for a healer.

Abul's own swordplay skills are too weak to let him understand what has happened, but it's clear enough, Hengist has met his master.

"Now that would even have impressed our old drill sergeant." Graylor murmurs to Yenda. "He was always saying that a swordsman needs to master the basics. This guy takes it to another level completely! Though he does rather defy his other favourite saying. 'The more you sweat, the better you get.'. I've never seen anyone look so icy in heat like this."

A thought strikes Graylor as he talks quietly to the group. "I think I might have a word with Hengist's old comrades. They don't seem to have a leader anymore, I wonder if they are interested in the possibility of a new, more honourable leader? Abul, Yenda why don't you go and see if you can persuade Khan to talk. Though I wouldn't use Hengist's tactics, they seemed counter productive!"

Graylor watches them approach the lone figure before approaching Yarran. Who is still seated, stunned at the speed and ferocity of the fight. "Greetings neighbour. Looks like your friend got a rather pointed lesson."

"Hmph. I told him to back down." Yarran grunts morosely. "Now the fool has paid the price for his stubborn streak."

"There are some whom it seems are unwilling to take advice when it is most needed. It's a real shame." Graylor looks to be turning away but as an apparent afterthought adds. "Say neighbour, where does his death leave you and the rest of his men?"

"What is it to you?" comes the surly response.

"That depends on you." Graylor leans in close, speaking very quietly and observing Yarran's reactions closely. "Rumour has it that Hengist was more interested in coin than cause and that the limits of his honour were very precisely documented."

"Those are the rumours," Yarran agrees, but now a spark of interest is in his eyes.

"Well, my leader is interested in men of honour and ability. It could be that some of you fit this description."

There is definite interest this time. "I'll put it to the lads, but you have me interested. Give me an hour and I'll let you know."

"I'll be here practicing 'till then." Graylor moves to an empty space on the practice floor and starts his exercises, keeping one eye on the progress of Abul and Yenda.

After a time Dori appears, Graylor has worked up enough of a sweat to justify a break, signals to her and they sit at the side of the practice square. Graylor is suddenly nervous about his actions and hardly gives Dori time to sit before he starts talking. His eyes are downcast and he sounds like he is confessing a sin rather than giving a report.

"I presume you know about the demise of Hengist. I'm sure Seledd will be pleased. Yenda and Abul are talking to him now, so I don't want to spoil their thunder by pre-empting their report. However, I have made some advances towards Hengist's men. They seem to be currently unattached and I thought that, if they are any good we could make use of them. Was I right to do so?" Graylor anxiously looks at Dori almost for the first time, hoping that he has done the right thing.

"That's an idea, and potentially a good one, as long as they're rather more honourable than he was. Since they chose him as a leader... well, we'll see. I don't want them in my Ten, anyway."

Graylor's head falls once again. The belief that his independent streak has got him into trouble again is obvious in his face.

Dori continues: "It fits in rather nicely with something I was discussing with Illig and Yodi this morning, though: we were going to do the formal announcement tonight. I don't want them in my Ten, I don't need more ordinary troops. You recruit them into yours."

Graylor almost doesn't hear Dori's words. It certainly takes a time for them to register. Then a brief flashes of hope, delight and amazement flicker across his face before he has himself under control. "Really, you'd give me that honour?" He asks rather bemused. "Would I remain in the Seventh or transfer to the Tenth when it becomes active?"

"You stay in the Seventh for now. When the Tenth becomes active, we'll see - I'd like to have you, but I might get out-bid. We'll need to talk about who transfers to your new Ten, but we'll still be working together anyway, so it doesn't matter hugely. The idea is that I get the Raven's Eyes, you get the more... physical, shall we say? troops."

"I am honoured. Thank you for the trust you have put in me. I will try my best not to let the legion down." Graylor's face is schooled but his eyes shine with pride.

"Would you help me with looking at these men? I would value your expertise in assessing them against the legions standards. Yarran will be bringing the interested men here within the hour. But first we should hear Abul and Yenda's report on Khan."



Abul makes a strict salute of the head recognizing that he has received his orders, but his stern folded mouth is a little bit distorted by a skeptical move.

He takes a large breath and walks slowly toward the impressive and solemn blond swordsman. While they walk indirectly toward his target, his mind searches furiously for a good introduction. First because he doesn't want to finishes his own life with blackened gasping face, second because he doesn't want to disappoint Graylor, third because he terribly needs to impress Yenda... or perhaps, more honestly, all of these, but in a reverse order...

Yenda and Abul approach the lone figure of Khan, for in the excited aftermath of the fight many people seem reluctant to approach. They stand near the stranger, near enough to be heard but cautiously out of reach for a direct sword strike. First to screw up her courage Yenda speaks. "Excuse me sir, might we be permitted to disturb your practice for a few moments? We wanted to know where you learned that attack. If you had missed then it would have been you head on the floor." She shudders delicately at the thought.

Khan turns from surveying the fallen Hengist, now being attended to by a handful of his men, and gives Yenda a small nod. "That is why it is important to never miss."

"Easy for you but not so for the rest of us." Yenda smiles with the compliment.

"I am Dissolution Khan, sword of Humakt. Who was this man I slew?"

"I am Yenda, initiate of Hu and my friend is Abul, initiate of Hereward Truewind. The man you killed was Hengist a local sell-sword."

Surprised to be presented directly and so fast, Abul stiffens. His manners seems civilized, his posture is straight and frank like his western-styled new shining sword and his voice is surprisingly deep with a heavy foreign accent. "Hengist wasn't so popular, his funerals will be cheap... and not over-crowded..."

There is a short silence while Abul explores the consequences of his own words... "But even so, the cost of such poor funerals will still fall on his mercenary soldiers, who aren't so rich and can't count on their tavern friends who are probably themselves just impoverished hot-headed fighters... This funerals cost will probably be another source of grieving for them... "

Khan pauses a moment in thought, before replying. "In Vesmonstran no weregild falls due for a death in a duel, but I am a stranger in these parts. Does local custom award me any obligations to the kin or retainers of the fallen?"

The young man sighs apparently from a faint or sincere concern but in fact from the effort to extract some courage in Jamal's bold and proud usual postures. He adds then: "Honor rules varies from country to country and of course someone with high swordsmanship may not care about local feeling around him, but a far-sighted person generally prefers to sow friendship instead of hostility, this to help mutual comprehension instead of useless quarrels. Too often useless quarrels leads to useless deaths... as Hengist just learnt. A pity when there is currently so much good causes around, probably requesting useful and honorable deaths, don't you think?"

Now the young man is probably more immobile than the stranger. He stands undecipherable, perhaps only someone like his adoptive father would interpret easily that now Abul is fighting Fear.

Khan weighs Abul with a long long, although it's hard to say whether what he sees is to his liking, his impassive mien betrays nothing. "You show wisdom to see what is useless, warrior. Well met. However, the man is dead. It ill behooves us to speak more on the wisdom of his choices, and instead recall his victories and celebrate that he died with sword in hand. Where there is a question of honor, there is no question. I shall ensure the cost of appopriate funeral rites are met in full."

Khan spits out a word in a foreign tongue, the sound vaguely reminiscent of Hengist's gargled death-rattle: "Urush!"

In response to this incantation a stooped creature scampers forth from a side archway. Clad only in a breechclout and a conical hat of woven rushes, the beast displays a rather repulsive, if powerful, physique. Dull black skin covers its broad chest, shoulders like cantaloupe melons and overly long arms that brush its knees. The outlandish figure looks to be about to drop to all fours at any moment as it capers forwards and comes to rest in an easy half-crouch next to the blonde. "Yes boss?"

"This is Abul Truewind. Ensure he has whatever gold he needs to attend to the dead man."

Khan turns to address Abul once more. "You have my thanks for ensuring the honorable is done. Urush can provide you with whatever you require, ensure Hengist does not want for proper rites and celebrations."

Yenda interjects. "We are both new to this temple, so why don't I go and find one the locals and find out the usual custom here."

Urush's hat tilts as he looks askance at Khan. The tusker's voice comes in a gravelly hiss from beneath the rushes. "Errr.....boss. You've killed him and now you pay to bury him? I don't think you've quite got the way killin' and lootin' works yet. First thing, let's check 'im for gold teeth. I'se go fetch the pliers......"

Urush tails off as he receives a long and piercing stare. He continues in a resigned tone: "Yes boss. Pay the man and get 'im buried. Very good boss."

The gnarled dwarf turns to address Abul in a calculating tone: "So....I heard you saying he wouldn't be too pricey to bury, not being a chief or nothing. If you know a priest who'll do it for fifty clacks and a bottle of the good stuff, now's the time to speak up."

Egil falls naturally into his allotted role in life and leans casually against a nearby wall taking a slight interest in the fight (not too much foolish people die in duels all the time) but is mainly surveying the area and the people in it. He spots two faces he recognises and his fingers flick a warning to Dori "Caution, enemy present." Then he moves his position to another wall passing Dori and Graylor on the way he ignores them as he passes but says quietly " two Marble Phalanx watching this, they're in mufti. Gerras will follow."

Dori's fingers flick back: "good work", and she fades quietly into the background and towards Aurel's office again. As anyone who's visited it before will know, it has a rear entrance that should let her exit the temple unobserved.

Yenda returns with the novice-master, Aldus "Do it again, but properly" Longsword, just in time to hear Urush's last question.
"No need to send for a priest. It has already been done, Wilms usually asks for a contribution of four silvers and I'll take the bottle for the apprentices who will clean the practice yard." Then speaking louder for everyone to hear Aldus adds. "Hengist will be interred after Dawn Watch tomorrow for those that want to witness."

Urush sucks meditatively on a yellowed fang. "Four pieces of silver? eesh well, if it gets him in the ground."

His voice tails off into a mutter. "If blondie's going to be killin' anyone else today, let's try and make 'em rich eh?"

Khan ignores him and addresses Yenda: "You say you are a stranger in this city too? no stranger to death, it seems, however. My thanks also for you assistance."

"No thanks required. My mentor and I have only been in Pavis a couple of weeks, and most of that time we have been staying out in the Rubble."

"Your mentor?"

"Graylor, you can see him performing with two swords in the corner there," Yenda replies.

Khan's pale eyes flick back to Abul. "I have not ventured into the Rubble at all, as yet. It is said that capable adversaries, and much chaos, can be found there. I would be interested to test the truth of this, should you know of a capable guide?"

Egil, who is still standing nearby scanning the area, says "I have a friend who is intimate with the Rubble and the things that live in it. He's running a little errand for me at present but will be back later if you want to meet him. It's not likely he'll do it for free mind you; he likes shiny things." Not once has Egil glanced at Khan, his eyes still watching the people in the crowd. The observant may have noticed that rarely has Egil put so many words together at once.

"Or perhaps, you may ask the Lunars... adds Abul. It is said that they organize expeditions to Ogre Island, a place renowned for chaotic monsters..." On this, contrary to Egil, Abul observes attentively the stranger and his reaction to the words "lunars" and "chaotic" and expires a long and calm breath. He then listens closely to the wind echoes.

Khan stands a moment in thought, before speaking in measured tones. "Do they go there to slay foulness, or to recruit? I have heard many times from Iruk of Pent that the followers of the moon do not always fight chaos as men should, and may on occasion bargain or ally with it. Iruk is a man of honor, and I trust his word. I think it would be the better course to meet with your guide."

Abul answers quite learnedly with an emotionless bass voice, as if he was just a visitor making a comment on casual situation. "The Red Goddess says that Chaos is a part of the Universe and thus must be accepted as such. Various orlanthi peoples around her Empire deny this teaching... perhaps because they have difficulties to accept the Crimson Bat feeding directly on their own populations, the tax demons taking their kings away, their stormy temples cast down under the shadow of the four armed Yara Aranis and, most of all, having her legions insisting on the lesson..."

Abul can't help having a short sign of disgust on his face, when he adds: "Having seen the Crimson Bat, I can't blame them fully..." He gets back to his neutral tone when he says: "They probably do both. Fighting what they can't enlist and enlist what they can fight. I can't tell you, I'm not a lunar myself."

Abul finishes his speech and expires a long and calm breath. He seems to be listening intently for something.

As Abul exhales, Khan feels a cold wind swirl around him. The sensation brings with it a flicker of memory: standing knee deep in snow in a frozen landscape as an icy wind sucks the life from him. Even this fragment of rememberance is subtly wrong, however. The feel of this uncharacteristic coolness is the same, but yet different.

The runelord's pale blue eyes fix Abul with a penetrating look, as the milky brows above them furrow slightly in concentration. "What is this?"

Abul answers and his deep voice sounds terribly frank: "This is the True Wind. You should not fear my magic... if you walk the Path of Truth."

Khan continues to stare cooly at Abul: "You follow Her'ward Truewind, so your companion said. I know of no thane of the father of winters by such name, and yet..." He gestures with an open hand, seemingly grasping for a concept that escapes him. "...cold. What is it you want of me, Abul? speak plainly. If ever there is a place for forthright speech, it is within the walls of a sword hall."

Abul hears no lies in Khan's words, no truths either... so he does as he has always done... hidden behind his emotionless mask, he recites an improvised translation of a weird foreign prayer and then observes the reaction: "Herw'Ard the Sword Prophet came, holding the North Wind. He told the Queen of Castle Blue about the right Leader and about the Honourable Path that leads out of Lie to Truth. Long after will the Prince of Castle Blue uses Herw'Ard's words to teach his people..."

Without even an eye's blink, the young man admits: "I was testing your feelings toward the Red Moon above us... It is written in many southern prophecies that, one day, all true warriors will have to choose their side... I was curious to know if you had already chosen one..."

Khan continues to look cooly at Abul, the hint of a frown creasing his brow. "I am a sword of Humakt, you had but to ask. Truth or silence would be the only answers you could receive." Khan continues to frown lightly, more in concentration than annoyance it seems.

"I would know more of your Her'ward however. You are not of Prax, by your look, but perhaps your cult is more widespread than your own land. Is there a temple or priest of this Her'ward within a season's travel of this place, or if not, how much further lies your homeland?"

On this, Abul grins faintly a joyful glitter in his eyes. "My homeland is the last civilized country north before the frozen wastes of Winter's land, but you may meet a full legion of faithful Herewardi if its leaders accept to meet you..."

While saying these last words, Abul makes a sign to Egil and Dori... and discovers that Dori has left the building. Quick to recover from his surprise, looking also at Yenda, he adds. "If you really wish to know more, tell us and we will bring your request to whom may accept it. I bet you'll be surprised."

Khan gives an almost imperceptable nod. "A warrior is well advised to avoid being surprised, but no matter. Carry word to your priest, if you will. Word can be left for me here at the temple, should your leaders prove agreeable."

"Aye Sir, I will bring your word," answers Abul, visibly well-trained in military behaviour... "and now if you excuse us, we have to leave you."

Making a step behind, Abul catches Yenda by the elbow and mutters to her ear. "We have to find Dori, she's not there any more, the Lunars must be around..."

Egil's head whips round, leaving his self assigned tasked of scouting forgotten for the moment, and latches a fierce glare onto Abul. "Such things we do not discuss in front of strangers however well disposed we think they may be. It is better to hold silence and be thought rude than face punishment from The Sword."

Graylor' attention has been split, half on the exercise drills and the other half on the way that Abul and Yenda have been conducting themselves with Khan. He inwardly winced at Khan's discovery of Abul's use of the Truewind but still performs a satisfactory pass, not as good as Khan would have done, but OK. Then hearing the annoyance in Egil's voice he gives up on the practice and turns to the others. "You are right Egil, but let's not be too harsh on them. This is their first time and they will make mistakes, they lack our subtlety." Graylor shares a private wink with Egil.

"Greetings Khan, I am Graylor Bladedancer as my young apprentice has already told you. As you have, somewhat inadvisedly, been told we are from an independent group. Your fame has reached us and we were intrigued by your affinity with the North Wind. We were asked to see if you would fit with our outlook and if you would be interested in having like-minded friends. If this sounds something you are looking for then why not return with us today?"

Khan remains impassive as Graylor speaks, taking in the veteran warrior with a long look. Khan's eyes linger for more than a second on Graylor's swords. "Well met, Graylor Bladedancer. That I serve both death and winter is no secret, although it is seldom I am questioned on it. The servants of winter seem rare in these lands. I am curious, so, aye, I accept your invitation. How long a journey should I expect?"

"Yes, the servants of winter are as rare as scar less warriors round here. I see you are both and that makes you very interesting. If we have the luxury some day we will have to swap tales. I'm sure yours will be more interesting than most."

Conscious of possible listeners Graylor fudges the details a bit. "But as to the journey few hours at most, we will have to go through the rubble. However, I can offer hospitality while we are all deciding about each other."

"I have an appointment and am waiting for some friends to return. Perhaps we can meet in a couple of hours and we can show you the way."

Abul and Yenda take their leave to visit the Lhankor Mhy temple. Some Lessons

Yarran returns to the practice ground looking slightly flustered. He gives a quick look round and spots Khan and hurries over. "Sorry to interrupt, but I think we need to clear a couple of points." Yarran's clipped precise delivery would show to his friends that he was somewhat anxious. "First, there will be no reprisals from the men Hengist led. We feel that you dealt with him more than honourably and we will accord the same honour to you. Secondly the temple staff have informed me that you have already taken care of his funeral expenses. That is very noble of you but quite unnecessary. Let me reimburse you for the expense occurred."

"Very decent of you, your greatness. Well there's the priest, the bull, the wooden board....."

Urush sucks on his teeth noisily. "Not cheap, your wooden board, in Prax. Mourners, spirit chasers, getting the priest at short notice when he's got that nasty rash from, never mind, best not to talk about it......I'se wasn't planning on spending more than fourty four silvers and a goat*. Call it fourty five if you're short of goats."

Yarran, first looks shocked then laughs. "And to what use do you intend to put the goat to? Your lunch perhaps? I've seen more deaths at this temple than I care to recall and the price has always been four silvers and something to keep the apprentices sweet while they are cleaning."

Yarran addresses Kahn. "That's a nasty man you have there sir! I hope he has his uses, because he certainly is not ornamental!"

Khan considers Urush a moment. "His people are a savage one, and he has not yet learned the ways of men. Humakt favours him, though, and aye, he has his uses."

Urush is quietly muttering something about inflation and the hierophantic Waterday surcharge, but his heart doesn't really seem in it and he's resigned to not profiting from Hengist's last rites. Once it is established that Yarran is to pay the priest directly, the swordsage takes his leave. "Well thank you sir, but if you will excuse me I have another appointment I have to keep. Hu keep your sword sharp and bright." With that the bald man hurries off towards the exit, but seeing Graylor he changes makes a detour. He stands respectfully to one side waiting for Graylor to notice his presence.

Graylor finishes his current exercise, panting slightly he signs for Yarran to speak. "Sir, most of the lads are interested in your offer, and seeing as how you didn't give me any real details of your offer I took the liberty of securing a room upstairs for a private discussion."

"Thank you Yarran your discretion serves you well. I will join you an a few minutes when I have had a chance to rinse of this blasted dust."

Graylor takes the opportunity to try and find Dori, but she doesn't appear to be in the temple at all, not wanting to risk identification by the Marble Phalanx guys Egil spotted. A few minutes later Graylor enters the room designated by Yarran. The eight men in the room look up at Graylor with a expressions ranging from curiosity to suspicion.

"Gentlemen, first let me say that I am sorry for what happened to your leader. However that misfortune is good for me. I am looking to recruit honourable men for an honourable unit, the nature of which will have to remain secret until I have your oaths that what is said in this room goes no further than these walls."

"What rubbish is this?" a tall unkempt man stands, his face full of open hostility. "Either you have a hire for us or not, we have always kept to any contract in the past."

"This is not a hire, I have no desire for mercenaries. I want loyal soldiers of honour. I am offering you all a chance to walk away from the life of a sell-sword and back to that of an honourable soldier. If you are not interested in the proposition then leave now." Graylor opens the door and allows the tall man and one other to leave. The rest remain and one by one they give their oaths to Humakt. Graylor takes this time to study each man, testing each with the purity of the truewind and viewing them with he suspicions nature of his Jalmari training. Two he rejects and dismisses them, one of whom he will add to the list of people to be watched by Vur's men. To the remaining four, including Yarran, he explains the nature of the legion and the contract they will enter into if they join. Impressed with the demands the contract places on the leadership they eagerly agree.

"Come to our camp in the rubble tomorrow, where you will meet my hundredthane who has the final say and if he approves then you could be legionaries before Yelm set. But now I need to know what skills you have with a blade. I don't want to show up with complete novices."

Graylor takes them down to the practice ground and watches them spar with each other. Most are merely competent whilst Yarran seems to be quite good with a blade, though he seems to chatter incessantly whilst fighting.

Graylor finishes the session with his new recruits and quietly instructs Yarran to bring the men to the Real City and they will be escorted from there. He is just looking round for Egil and Kahn when Santhis returns to the temple looking very excited and happy.

"They are willing to take me in!" He says in a rush of youthful enthusiasm. "Well at least they didn't say no and that they would think it through. I'm to return in two days for their decision."

"Good for you." Graylor congratulates him with warm affection. "When we get back you can tell me all about it. But, for the moment we need to find the others. Why don't you find Egil and I'll see to our guest."

In a few minutes the group is reunited and ready for travel.

"Graylor,I think we're going to want a diversion to get those phalanx clowns off of your backs. Me and Mav will head off and find Gerras, we'll make a bit of a song and dance about it and hopefully they'll follow us. We'll head to the pens by a long route and head back to the temple after nightfall. Give us an hour or so after we leave then head off back by whatever route suits you best." Egil wears a slight smile as he says this then he turns to his cousin "Start running 'cause I'm going to be be chasing, and shouting, and head for the founders market. Hopefully we'll pick up Gerras somewhere along the way."

Mauvin leaps to his feet and hurtles out of the temple followed closely by Egil shouting "You blue pervert! What did I say would happen if you touched my arse again?"

Graylor smiles at their antics and watches the Lunar soldiers follow Egil and Mauvin out of the temple. He turns to Kahn preempting the questions in his eyes. "We are not popular with the Marble Phalanx and would rather not have their attention on us if we can avoid it. They know we are about, but not quite where and we would like to keep it like that. I think that perhaps a prayer to Humakt to guard our journey and our friends, then we can be on our way."

In the quiet of the temple Graylor advises Kahn. "We still may be followed so we will go a roundabout route to get to the rubble. We'll actually go out via Gimpy's tunnel but will head out to the farmers quarter first. Irnar will be able to see if we are being followed. If you wouldn't mind following my lead we'll be back at base in no time."

Khan gives a short nod. "Very well. I shall make ready."

Without further ado he strides away into the body of the temple.

Minutes later Khan re-emerges, byrnied from head to toe in gleaming copper and bearing long blades at hip and shoulder. The hunched form of Urush, lightly armoured and bearing a staff and the runelord's helm, capers at his heels. Khan delivers another nod to Graylor.

"Nice armour!" Graylor comments. "Never seen copper mail before. It's a lot more attractive than iron."

As they leave the temple Graylor turns to Kahn. "Fancy a beer after all that practice? I've heard that the Stomp 'n' Brew serves a good brew, if you don't mind a bit of physical entertainment."

Khan gives a brief shake of his head.

"No"

A moment passes before Urush's throaty chuckle comes from behind the pair.

"Blondie doesn't drink ale, or anything worth drinking, come to mention it. Probably what gives him his sunny disposition. In this case it seems an ale or three is a tactical necessity, so I'll drink double to compensate, seeing as you're buying."

"Ah, apologies. I should have thought to ask. We'll find you an alternative drink when we are there then."

Irnar drops behind to ensure that they are not being followed. The others make their way down Sword Street to the farmers market and then follow the wall south to Hind Alley and avoiding the Stom 'n' Brew head into the back of Bobs Bisonburgers. At the front door they meet Irnar and quickly make their way to Gimpy's and making sure they are not observed through the tunnel and out to the relative safety of the rubble.

"Apologies to you Urush. I didn't get you the beer you were hoping for. I think you'll find that there is good ale at the camp that will have to be my recompense to you."

onward
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