Thorn's Chronicle continues...
First Quarter Moon (on or about Nuwmont 6, 998AC)
I had just dropped into slumber after my turn at the watch when Sera’s wards vibrated. I had time to rouse myself, and had just laid fingers upon my staff when the campfire roared to life, followed by a shrill shriek.
It was not the voice of anyone from the camp.
Varis and Gilliam approached at a run from opposite sides of the camp, where they’d been at watch, weapons at the ready. The vardo’s door creaked open, and I felt the familiar glow in my stomach, the tingling along the back of my neck. I squinted, a brightness among the threads of Matter and Energy at the fringes of my vision. Sera held a weaving of earth and flame ready to loose, then.
“Shrike, stand clear, I can’t get a decent shot,” Gilliam said.
“What is going on out here?” came Demarra’s sleepy voice from the shadows inside the vardo.
“Assassins in the night,” Aurora hissed. She sat atop a struggling form, dragonstones bright as she pinned it by the neck, pressing its face into the wet earth by the camp’s fire. The flames snapped and crackled, though there was nothing but ashes and coals to feed them.
“Is this what you were after?” She pressed the tip of her knife to the figure’s cheek — all that was visible of the face beneath the dark cloak’s hood. “It was unwise to try to use my own blade against me.”
“No, mistress! Your pardon! Your pardon!” The figure’s voice was muffled, male but in a higher register. And, judging from the size comparison, a bit shorter than the shrike herself.
“Aurora, he’s just a child!” Ana had apparently made the same deductions I had, and spoke before I could.
“A child that thought it could take the knife from my belt? Goblins have been known to start slitting throats not soon after they gain their legs.”
Beneath the cloak, feet kicked, accompanied by a muffled clanking. “This one is no goblin! Please, mistress! One begs the chance to explain!”
“Well, he’s too well spoken to be a goblin,” Varis murmured, lowering his sword. “Don’t think there is even a word like ‘please’ in their tongue.”
“The words are formed all wrong for one speaking through pointed teeth,” Gilliam said, relaxing his half-draw on the bow. “Let the boy up, let us hear what he has to say.”
The dragonstones’ glow ebbed, and the campfire gradually dimmed, though it brightened again as Varis and I fed it more wood.
Slowly, reluctantly, Aurora stood, and backed away from the cloaked figure, the knife held in a low guard.
Ana, Sera, and Demarra descended the steps of the vardo, but Aurora stepped in front of the doorway when Silva tried to follow. They argued, briefly, in the High Thonian, but Aurora crossed her arms, Silva rolled her eyes and each remained where they stood.
The cloaked figure struggled to his hands and knees, and then regained his feet, his motions stiff, jerky, almost as if he were worked with strings. The hood turned this way and that. Gilliam pulled back on his bow’s string.
“Just take a seat by the fire, friend,” he said. “Slowly.”
Slowly was about the only way the figure could move, and as the cloak — which dragged upon the ground behind him— lifted away, we could see the reason for his halting, somewhat automaton-like motion: leg irons, the chain between them wound ‘round with cloth to muffle it. His wrists were likewise bound.
Varis and Gilliam exchanged glances, brows raised. Sera glanced over the figure’s hooded head, at me. The flows and tendrils drifting at the corner of my vision had changed, reds and browns fading to deep blue, traced with white. She readied the air to harden around our visitor if need be. I nodded, and a corner of her mouth quirked.
“Well, now, friend, let us have a look at your face.” Gilliam still held the bow at a half draw.
The clanking of the chains was barely audible as the figure lifted his hands, tugging at one side of the too-large hood and then the other, until it fell back.
The face— beneath a layer of soot and grime and a few bruises— was of a young man, not a child. His eyes shone a brilliant amethyst, amidst the dirt and bruising on his cheek and forehead. His hair hung nearly to the iron collar about his neck, probably a lighter brown beneath the soot and dirt and cobwebs tangled in it. His lips were chapped, split amidst another bruise on his chin, but his smile showed all of his teeth intact.
Demarra had already set our helmet cook pot over the fire, and I nudged the flames along to speed the water within it to a boil.
Ana glared over the halfling’s shoulder, at Aurora.
“No, mistress, these… the other mistress is not to blame for these.” He brushed a finger over the bruises. “The Tarsfotar, they do this when one disobeys.”
“At least let me—“
“No, mistress.” The halfling flinched away as Ana made to place her hands on his wounds. “One hardly even feels them, now.”
“They are certainly recent, but not fresh,” Gilliam said. “Tell us, friend, what is your name?”
Wide, purple eyes blinked, and the halfling cocked his head to the side. “Name?” The word came out sounding as if he’d never heard it before.
“How are you called?”
The halfling pursed his lips, as if the notion never occurred to him. “‘Hara’khen?’ But all of this one’s kind are called such.”
That was certainly no name for a person. It sounded very similar to the dwarven word for ‘prisoner.’ They drew from the same base runics, of that I was sure. It would have been nice indeed to have Durin here, as the dwarven tongue is so remarkably precise in its depth of nuance, that only a native speaker can tease apart the many layers of detail and meaning.
“Surely, there is something else we can call you,” I suggested.
“‘Hara’khen' will not do?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“One is not allowed to have one of these… names… in the presence of the Tarsfotar. One is simply Hara’khen, as the others. But now…” He sat up a bit straighter. “But the Tarsfotar are gone, swallowed by the hurghon. That is how this one escaped. To seek help, for others who yet live beneath the hurgonkres.”
“What do the others call you?” Ana asked. “When the.. Tarsfotar are not around?”
“Sythian,” he began, then glanced around, as if on reflex, even as he blushed. “At times she calls this one ‘Pyrklist.’” He winced, as if waiting for a lash to fall, or a blow to land. One pale purple eye opened, and then the other as he looked around at each of us. “You would… give that to this one?”
“Sounds rather dwarvish for a halfling name, but I think it sort of fits,” Gilliam said, with a shrug.