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    • Markshire PCs:

    Laying beneath the thick wool blankets of his bed and trying to fend off the sharp chill of the night as it seeped through the pane of the old window and into his room at the Red Dragon, Samirez considered recent events.

    The plague had given him time to reflect on his life – how he’d lived it and his joys and regrets. For the short time he’d managed to fend off the delerium and rage that the plague had ravaged, he’d done a fair amount of thinking.

    Snow. This place certainly had enough of it. Far from his homeland of spice isles and sun shine, where the only breeze was a warm wind off the sea that at worst would be slightly acrid with salty spray. The wind here would strip flesh from bones in the remote flatlands. It carried the promise of cold death with every gust. Still, Sam had to admit to himself that he liked it here. It was remote. The father of his favorite merchant’s daughter would not likely have contacts here, nor think to send anyone after him this far.

    Suddenly he realized what made him grow acustomed to this place so quickly. He could let his guard down. Certainly not in the wildlands, but in the cities and in the inns. No scanning the crowd to see if a dagger lurked with his name on it. No seeking the back corner table for protection. He could relax. The folk of Markshire helped of course. Good people for the most part, dedicated to protecting this place whether it was home or not. Sammy had to admit he had found himself caught up in the fervor that surrounded the good folk here. Already it felt like home and he was willing to risk battle to protect it.

    Battle. Sam’s thoughts turned to Nashia. She was strong. Not as disheveled as when she had shown up in Foothold seeking him out. A grin crept onto his face thinking about it. She had done all this for him, sought him out over thousands of miles, all just to force him back into the position as her owner.

    Well that is not entirely correct he thought, his grin widening. She came here to kill me for leaving her. Sammy shook his head slightly and sighed. He should have sent her a message, a missive, some sign as to why he left. If only I could tell her why I didn’t send her a message, Sam mused. But that was not her way. She had selected him to be her owner, and while at first he was terrified and repulsed at what that meant, he had come to realize two things. This was the way of her people – generations of tradition and honor. The second was of course that he had come to enjoy what it meant to be her owner. Not that he had any illusions of control, far from it. Nashia was her own woman, and would be forever. He joked with her about finding her a man who could afford her price to wed….but did he ever truly mean to?

    Sam looked inside himself, seeing the answer plain as day but once again shook it off, forcing himself to rise from his covers and pick up the poker for the fireplace. There, on a cot that sat amongst the cinders was Nashia, sleeping peacefully.

    I must be quiet, Sam thought, a wry grin creeping across his face, the first time I tried this she woke to have me standing over her with a fire poker in hand in my underclothes. He still had the scar on his inner thigh from the longknife she had stabbed him with.

    Fishing about in the fire with the poker while being careful to shield her hair from stray embers he gently laid another log onto the coals. He looked down once again to her face. Peaceful, calm and so unlike her when she is awake. Her brownish red hair spilled about her face and he stood there, risking another knife wound in the leg, or worse, and admired her beaut…..

    Catching himself Sam shook his head and stepped gently over the cot and back to his bed, replacing the fire poker in it’s spot near the bedside table. He mentally berated himself for feeling as he did and looking at her so. She was a clanswoman – and he her owner. He owed her his detachment in this, no matter how difficult it had become.

    Crawling back amongst his covers Sam turned his back to the fireplace and humming a tune in his head, forced himself to sleep.

    • Markshire PCs:

    The Titan is free….Sam, sitting in the Red Dragon with a tankard of wine in one hand and strumming his lute which lay face up on the table, had considered the words and their implication since he saw the Titan roaming the Gate, and read Bel’s report.

    Too much information. He had too many questions, and after what he had seen, he could not digest all the information presented to him. Aelswith had some knowledge of how the Titan had been captured, and about the Paladin who had done the deed, but even this scrap of information brought hundreds of more questions to his mind.

    Thrice since morning he had headed down to the Eastern gate in Foorhold and walked the earthworks, peering out over the wall to see if the Titan had come to Foothold. Foothold. Sam chuckled. It would indeed be a foothold should the Titan come. Footprint would be a more apt name. The size and destructive power of the Titan was like nothing he had ever seen.

    The biting chill reminded him of Nashia, who was none too pleased with him. Sam had pulled rank as her owner. Sometimes that was the only way to get through to her, to make her listen, though in his heart Sam never liked to invoke that right. It made him feel stained somehow. She had even gone out with Monty to show him the Gate. Sam had surprised her there, just on the other side of the wall, hiding, watching, invisable. Watching for the Troll or his human counterparts to come and go. Monty was with her. Sam was unsure of how he felt about that. Monty certainly didn’t seem to take the ribbing at the Red Dragon the first time they had met very well. Nashia had considered him as a potential husband, and Sam had certainly appraised him as well – to see what kind of man he was. And Bel, well he got a tremendous kick out of it, singing Monty’s virtues in order to get him in trouble.

    He remembered Nashia’s eyes there in Treingar at the Gate. He remembered how they accused him when Sam gave the order to withdraw. To run. As fast as legs would bear them. To run and warn Foothold of the danger. To warn the Mark himself. Coward! her eyes said, with all the venom that the word means in Nashia’s homeland. Aye, Sam thought to himself, perhaps I am a coward – but we lived.

    Being in Gastlinyk and managing to avoid any detection by the Titan and his minions had allowed him to better assess the damage. It was widespread. Entire blocks in every quarter had been destroyed, fires burned unchecked, and blood ran in the streets. A darkness hung palapable in the air over Gastlinyk now, shadowing all light. Sam hoped that many escaped, to the forest, or to the Deep Dwarven city.

    The Titan was a force that seemed to destroy for the sake of destruction. A puny Troll, a boggle and a few human warriors were nothing to it, and would be consumed all the same should they show their faces at the wrong time in the ruins of Gastlinyk Gate. So if the Troll and those who hung about him weren’t in the Gate, where were they?

    Sam finished his ale and packed up his lute. A few of the patrons looked at him for a song but he shook his head and put up his hand to send them off. He didn’t feel like singing just now. Sam started off towards his room, knowing Nashia was already abed in her cot by the fire. One of the pretty working girls caught his eye and flashed him a smile. Sam looked at her and, his gaze lingering a moment at the hall that would take him to his room, returned her smile with a grin of his own and walked to the bar to buy her a drink.

    • Markshire PCs:

    A feeling of dread so intense that it physically hurt shocked Samirez out of his light slumber. He started awake to a sitting position, his breath coming rapidly and deeply, sweat rolling down the spine-channel of his back. He quickly gauged his surroundings. All was quiet in his room in the Inn of the Red Dragon. It must be the dead of night, Samirez thought to himself, I don’t hear the kitchen staff or bar patrons about. Satisfied that there was no immediete danger, Sam rested the long hunting knife on the underblanket covering the floor he rested on.

    Sam’s eyes traced to Nashia, asleep on her cot near the fire. She had positioned the room’s feather bed closer to the fire beside her, in order to keep their newest charge warm. Sam’s watchful gaze fell to the young girl’s face and drank in her soft features. In her magic-induced state of slumber, she looked serene and beautiful. Any man would be lucky to have a child such as this one, Sam thought – a smile coming to his face unbidden, but this one has lost everything and isn’t mine…

    The girl’s arm hung out from her blankets and Sam could decern the crack lines that wove their way along her skin in some unfathomable pattern. The cracks didn’t glow with the light they had those few short nights ago when the girl had stumbled into Odin’s temple crying for aid. The search for the girl’s mother had yeilded nothing – she was perhaps part of the hysteria the girl had been experiencing as a result of the Titan’s transformation.

    Though the girl had been kept soundly asleep by Father Ryche ever since, Sam had played to her on his lute each night diligently. Soft, comforting melodies. As he played, like he did so often, he imagined the music as a living thing – like a snake made of a whisp of smoke. He envisioned the music sliding to the girl, and curling gently into her ears and mind as he played, the music alive at the bidding of fingers and strings.

    The girl, for that was all Sam could call her not knowing her name, became fitful in her bed, and the cuts on her arms glowed lightly before she rolled over, mumbling incoherently.

    Sam reached over and lifted his lute which was ever close by, leaning against the back wall of the room and began to lightly strum the strings. He closed his eyes and the music was there before him. This time, he willed the whisp of visible sound into his own ears then out again through his heart, channeling the power that was within him. With his mind’s eye he watched the sounds sweep slowly across the room, glowing motes of sound that eminated magic. As it seeped into her ears he saw through her, the music surrounding her mind with comfort and quiet, that which his heart most wished for her.

    Here little one, he spoke through his music, here is something to hang on to.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Sam sat against the wall of the room in stunned silence. Absently his hand traced to his cheek as he considered what had just happened. Never, NEVER before would Nashia have behaved so. The kiss, a chaste and simple expression of caring, burned his face as if it had been the most passionate of embraces. Motherhood, Sam mused, is not such a bad thing for her.

    He watched as Nashia crossed the room and entered the bedchamber that she had designated for she and the child. Katirina, Sam corrected himself. A serviceable name. Sam had no illusions of what would happen should someone or something cross the threshold of that room. Nashia seemed more like the she-wolf that was her totem than ever, both loving and fierce.

    Nashia believed that she could make this girl strong and so had taken her here, far from civilization. Sam’s fears lay unspoken. Strong yes. In control, yes – though that would be the hardest part. Good? Sam wondered if anything the Titan’s Curse had touched could remain good for very long. At best, she may have a chance, but Sam had seriously considered the alternatives. What if they taught her control, and she became a feared enemy. What if they were only arming the Titan with a powerful servant or ally?

    Sighing, Sam put the thoughts from his head. He knew his fears for the girl and did not need to dwell on them anymore. She was a sweet girl for now. Confused. Heartbroken. Terrified. Nashia’s reply had been right. They were her family now. Even Thorvald, who Sam had wondered cared about anyone, had pledged his love and devotion to the girl. Sam shifted his gaze from the doorway to Thorvald’s cot, where he lay lightly snoring. I misjudged him. Too quick to judge lately. The elf-mage in Foothold. I did the same with him. To him I will need to apologize. And to Aelswith too.

    To date he had kept his thoughts even from Nashia. But something had happened to Sam as well in Gastlinyk. Not the brunt of what most of the populace had suffered for sure, but his proximity and duration of foray’s into the Gate to check for survivors and escort those he did find to Bal’ynaz had changed him somehow. The music that he saw only when he channeled the energy within him he had seen more of late, and unbidden. When Nashia’s lips had touched his cheek, for a moment, he had seen her as a million notes, each playing a harmony to the other. And his own eyesight had failed him a few mornings. It would inevitably return, while he lay in bed, Nashia thinking him recovering from the night’s excesses.

    Their focus must now be on the child, for Nashia was right – she was special, and they must help her. There would be a time for Sam to tell Nashia about his visions – about Katirina standing in his view as a million sounds – both innocent, youthful harmonies and ancient, seething discord. Sam shuddered involuntarily and opened his eyes again, the room returning to view and the vision fading from his mind’s eye but for the most difficult scene. Sam considered it a moment longer before he calmed his mind. He laid down now upon his bedroll to rest, the last and most disturbing vision fleeing from a sleepy mind. It was the dark, chromatic noise that keened to be the loudest.

    • Markshire PCs:

    The Cona mountains found a brightly clothed bard lying on his back amongst a nestled crag of rock on the mountains edge. The sun was bright and where it found his clothes there was warmth to be had, and the depression in the rock protected him from the worst of the Cona winds.

    Nashia had begun Katirina’s training: discipline and physical mastery. She was still small – and wiry, but Sam had every confidence that Nashia could mold the child into a young woman who was strong and confident.

    Sam lay there pondering what he could offer the child and, as the sun warmed his face, drifted off into sleepy recollection of the memories of his own training…

    “Your mother is leaving us, boy. She goes to the Gods now. Stop your crying! You must be a man now!” The voice of the old preist was harsh to Sam’s ears. “No, priest. He does not. Let the boy cry. Give him his time.” The voice of the man that only a day before had introduced himself as his father. It was softer. Less judgemental.

    *A flash of light and an image focuses – a boy and a man on foot on a dusty road, the warm sounds and smells of spring.*

    “So you see, Samm’l – a bard can travel these roads without fear of attack by bandits. Bards are treated to safe passage. Mind you – the cost is we may have to play an evening for robbers and highwayman, but it is a small price to pay.”

    *Another flash of light and the interior of a walled roadhouse appears, the light, smell and noise comforting.*

    “That boy of yours has a fair voice, Master Bodige, and a quick hand to boot” a voice from behind the bar speaks. “Aye, but more importantly, look at him read the room.” The father watched the boy on stage with keen interest and an appraising eye. “He knows what they want and when they want it.”

    *the scene fades and is replaced by a tent and fire pitched by the roadside on a warm summer evening*

    “You mean like this, father?” The boy closes his eyes and plays his newly carved lute, concentration etched on his face. A man sits beside him in travel leathers, listening and watching. “No, Samm’l. You are stressing too much. Just play, and listen, and then look into yourself. Picture the music as a whisp of smoke or a gust of wind. Draw it in and then send it back out to me, and have your heart tell this music what you want to convey.”

    *time moves rapidly on*

    “Gods’ alive, Samm’l!!! That’s it!” The man watches the boy with pride and concern, as he lifts himself back onto the folding travel stool by the campfire. “Nearly blew me across the field you did! I’d wager I’d defend this camp to my dying breath as a result! I feel…energized.” The man’s smile is all the boy needs and soon he is grinning. “I didn’t even know what my fingers were doing, father! Just like you said!” “Aye, Samm’l. That’s what I was waiting to see…we’ll make a few more coins now, I’ll warrant!”

    *The scene enters from blackness, moving rapidly. A man crumpled on the ground, a boy kneeling beside him weeping. Two other figures lay face down and unmoving, blood on the grass and a camp destroyed. A day later and a cairn of rock is built by the forest’s edge*

    The boy finishes his crying and, with determination, gathers what can be salvaged from the camp. A lute lay in peices on the ground, and the boy steps over it. Another lute, weatherbeaten and aged, the boy picks up. The neck of the Lute is broken, and some pegs are pulled from their positions, but the boy puts the instrument into an oilskin bag and slings it over his shoulder. The lines etched on his face tell the tale.

    Sam started awake on the rocky outcropping, his hand falling to his rapiers out of habit. The sun has barely moved from noon. Seeing nothing amiss, he wiped his brow and slipped off the rock to a stand. Two things were clear to Sam. One, the girl could learn to harness her power through music, and Sam, like his father, could teach her that. The second, was that there would never again be safe passage afforded them. Ever.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Sam walked carefully hand in hand with Katirina over the barren rocky pass in search of two things, sun and grass. He had seen such a patch the day before during a walk, and made for it now. The clouds, so nearer the land at this altitude, were not threatening rain, and only obscured the warm rays of the sun for as long as it took the winds to carry them past.

    “Here we are, Kat!” Sam exclaimed with a smile as they rounded a bend and he saw the spot. Kat smiled at him as well when her eyes drank in the spot. One of the few patches of soft grass in an otherwise bleak landscape, and sure enough, the sun’s warmth fell right on it. She hefted the basket over the last few feet and nearly dropped ito on the grass, rubbing her arms from the effort.

    “This place is beautiful, father. However did you find it?” Katirina busied herself by pulling the content of the basket out and setting them on the ground. There was fried gamebird, some flatbread, and the vinegared greens that were Nashia’s mother’s recipe. A bottle of wine and a waterskin accompanied the food. Coming to the bottom of the basket, Kat looked up at Sam with eyes full of accusation. “There are iron bars in the bottom of this!”

    Sam smiled his devilish grin at the girl and so disarmed most of her anger. “Well, yes. Nashia can teach you to fight, and you must listen to her, but I can teach you a thing or too as well, you know. You lugged that basket all the way here. By yourself. And you never once asked me for help…” Sam’s eyebrow raised in a typical you see, I know what I’m doing and am particularly pleased with myself, fashion. “Those ingots weigh 10 pounds a piece.”

    Kat, exasperated, sat with a thump on the grass and shook her head. “I’m tired of being tested, father. Why does mother have to be so cruel!?”

    Ahhhh…finally we get to it, thought Sam to himself, his only display a quick smile as he handed Kat a peice of the poultry. Considering it for a moment he took a bite of his own peice. It was quite good.

    “Well, Kat. I can’t pretend to know anything where you mother is concerned……but I can tell you what my experience has been. Perhaps you can draw your own conclusions from that?”

    Kat, her face now half covered in the oil from the chicken and intently focused on the wing she was devouring, looked up to Sam, considered his words for a moment, and then nodded.

    Sam reached over and poured half a cup of wine for Katirina – the second half he had filled from the waterskin, and began.

    “When I was ill, with the plague, your mother tended me. I lay in bed only as long as Father Ryche would allow. As soon as I showed signs of improvement, your mother would kick me out of my bed like she often does,” Sam rolled his eyes and winked at Kat who grined widely, “and then she began to run me.”

    Kat looked at Sam with her head tilted slightly. “Run you?”

    “Oh aye,” Sam replied, “she would run me until I near collapsed from exhaustion.”

    “See! That so cruel,” Katirini shot back, an annoyed look on her face. “She does the same to me! Makes me practice and practice and fight and mind my footing and run and…..and….it’s not fair! She does it just to be mean!”

    Sam smiled and took a pull from the bottle of wine, wiping an escaped drop from his chin with the back of his hand. “Aye…perhaps she does do it to be mean. Perhaps she doesn’t love you then when she gives you kisses and holds you tight in the night when your nightmares comes as well…but… She never ran me ill more than she knew I could run healthy, despite my cursing her name for the effort I had to make. Just when I felt I was to drop to the ground, when my legs where to give out and my lungs burned from the effort, she would begin to walk.”

    Kat looked up from the bowl of sour and salty greens she had been picking at and looked at Sam who had turned to regard her.

    “Nashia pushes you, I believe,” Sam held up his hands to further demonstrate that it was not his place to say, “because she wants you healthy again. Strong. And independant. I don’t think that she would ever push you farther than you needed to be pushed. Even I had to admit that I recovered from the after-effects of the plague much faster from her efforts than I would have had I been left to my own devices.”

    Sam shrugged after his statement, knowing that Kat was watching his every move. “As I said, child, I don’t know…I just think that she wouldn’t have gone through all the effort she has to keep you safe and well just to be cruel for cruelties sake. It’s up to you of course to decide whether or not to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

    Sam reached behind him and pulled the battered lute from it’s oilskin bag and began tuning it, pretending not to observe Kat as she digested not the greens, but Sam’s retelling of events.

    “Perhaps a song?” Sam asked her.

    It took Kat a minute to respond, by which time a smile had crept it’s way back to her face. “Yes father, I think I would like that” the brown haired girl of 10 years replied.

    “And by the way, father?”

    “Yes?”, Sam looked up at Katirina from his tuning.

    “I saw you this morning.” Kat looked smug and her grin was mischeivous.

    “Oh?” asked Sam, trying to imagine what she had seen him do.

    “Aye,” Kat replied giggling, “I saw the way you looked at mother when she was dressing. Do you suppose she knew you could see her reflection from the mirrior in our room from all the way out in the hall?”

    Sam swallowed hard and then laughed. “No child, I know she couldn’t see me. I still have my eyes in my head.” Sam tossed her a wink and began to play a light and fair mountain tune as Kat laughed with him.

    • Markshire PCs:

    “You’ve got the scales downpat lass, and the tuning is coming along. I think you are ready for a chord or two.”

    Sam took the weatherbeaten and abused instrument from Katirina’s hands and made only one adjustment to one of the strings. He plucked it a few times and, satisfied, placed his hands on the board of the lute mindful to ensure that Katirina could see his finger placement.

    With his callused thumb he strummed the strings and watched Katirina’s eyes. “Did you hear that?” Sam asked, already repeating the chord.

    Kat’s forehead scrunched up and eyebrows deepened. “Aye, father, I hear it. It sounds familiar somehow.”

    “It should.” Sam smiled genuinely at her. “It’s the first chord of the song I played you when you first came to us. I played it while you slept.” Sam’s smile turned to a wry grin. “I’m glad to see you were paying attention.”

    Sam spent the rest of the afternoon playing her chords and answering her questions which were well thought out. Kat had taken to the playing of the lute well. Perhaps this is just to get out of all the training Nashia puts her through, he thought, but I’ll take it anyway.

    Sam enjoyed this time with Kat. It not only brought to mind the training his own father had provided him, but he found it challenging to take something that he now did by habit and instinct and boil it down to something that a girl of 10 would not only understand, but apply.

    Sam handed the lute back to Kat and watched her with a critical eye as she played the chords he had taught her. After each he asked her to sing the low and the high note in the chord, and she did so as a child of 10 should take to music or dance – with abandon. Her voice was clear and bright, and she was unencumbered by fear or criticism so she put her all into the note. In the mountains, the clear, crisp notes carried for miles.

    Sam took the lute back from her and nodded to Kat to unpack the lunch that Nashia had provided for them. Cheese, bread and greens were their fare today. Sam was pleased that none of Nashia’s gruel was in the mix. He was not fond of it, despite Nashia’s lecturing on it’s value of nourishment.

    It was during these quiet times that Kat would ask him her questions on all manor of topics. Sometimes she would ask about the people they had saved from the Gate. Sometimes she would ask why this tree bore fruit and this did not, or about the fauna that pervaded the mountains. Sam would answer as he could, some questions needed no answer and were asked for the sake of conversation. Despite how used he had become to Kat’s questions however, nothing had prepared him for her next.

    “Do you love mother?” she asked. “It seems to me that mothers and fathers must love each other.”

    When Sam had recovered from coughing up a bit of bread and cheese, he grabbed the wine and cleared his throat with a slug from the bottle. His mind raced, searching for an answer to a question that he cursed himself for not seeing as coming. It was quite a natural question for the girl to ask of course.

    “I…well…well Nashia is…” Sam stopped and took a deep breath. He sounded like a fool and wanted to be honest with his inherited daughter.

    “Yes, Kat. Yes I love your mother. In a way.” In a way!?! His own answer sounded false to his ears, and worse, to Kats.

    “What do you mean? Either you love someone or you don’t, dont’ you?” came Kat’s question, like an arrow to Sam’s heart.

    “Of course you do, child. Have you asked mother that same question?” Satisfied he had at least bought himself some time, Sam relaxed slightly.

    “No. Mother doesn’t seem the type to answer such a question. She would call it silly and tell me to concentrate on my training.”

    Sam smiled. “I can almost hear that answer coming from her, it’s true. But why don’t you ask her during a quiet time, like when you lay down at night. That’s when women are the most talkative in MY experience, Sam thought to say but correctly remained silent.

    “She has told me that you are her owner. What does that mean exactly? She isn’t a slave after all.” Kat’s voice grew meek, “Is she?”

    Sam cracked a wide grin. “No child, there lives no one who could tame that woman, well…at least until you came around that is. You see, Nashia came to me,” Sam tried to recollect, “five years ago now. She had left her clan to search for her sister, and as such, needed an owner.

    Kat looked questioningly at Sam, drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them.

    “In Nashia’s culture,” Sam explained, “each woman has an owner. A man who must defend her and whose task it is to take care of her until he can find her a husband who can both see her worth, and pay for it. A woman who commands a high price is more valued, and has a higher social station amongst her clan as a result. Nashia had to leave her clan to find her sister, and had no owner abroad. So….for some unknown reason, ” Sam threw Kat a wink and a smile, “she chose me.”

    “So I must find her a husband, and take care of her,” if that’s possible thought Sam, “until i find one who can afford her.”

    Kat considered the story and looked unsure of the implications. “if you found mother a husband, would you still be my father?” she asked cautiously.

    Sam motioned the girl closer and wrapped her in his arms, both of them looking out on the mountain vista. “No devil from Hel, no man, no woman and no Titan, not even your mother,” Sam pinched Kat’s knee and elicited a giggle, “could take you away from me, Kat.”

    They enjoyed the view until Sam realized the hour and moved her forward and began packing his lute. Shaking his head he looked frustratedly at the instrument. “You know Kat,” he asked, turning to where she was now packing up the lunch, “this lute has seen better days. I am hesitant to continue using it to practice on. You need your own lute. Tell me, have you been saving your coins?”

    Kat, demonstrativly worried that her music lessons were over, turned and shot back “You and mother don’t GIVE me any coins! How could I be saving them!?!?”

    Sam nodded sagely, “Hmmm…this is true, yes.” Sam now looked deep in thought. “Difficult this. Well then, I suppose you’ll just have to use this one.”

    Sam had difficulty maintaining his stoic expression while he handed her the new oilskin bag. Kat, her brows furrowed, loosed the slipknot on the top of the bag and, with a stretch of the coth, removed the lute from inside. It was much finer than Sam’s, with ivory inlay and a mahogany neck. The strings seemed to shine brighter than anything Kat could remember. With a squeel she jumped into Sam’s arms, hugging him for all she was worth. Sam knew that they needed no words between them as well as he knew that he would lay his own life down to protect this girl. His daughter. And her mother.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Sam sat on the hard wooden chair that the Acolytes of Odin’s temple in Foothold had afforded him. On his lap, Kat lay against his chest, her eyes on the hard planked bed in front of them, and the figure lying motionless under it’s covers.

    “Will she be okay, father?” she turned to look into Sam’s eyes, the portals of truth from which Sam could not hide.

    Sam turned his own gaze from the bed and replied. “Aye, Kat. Father Ryche is a talented man, and Odin is with him. He’ll find the cause to all of this.” Sam absently twirled his adopted daughter’s hair around his finger as he spoke.

    “But I’M the cause!!” Kat blurted, the well of emotion bubbling up. “If I hadn’t gone with those girls, if I’d stayed home like she told me to, she would be fine!! I’m sooo sorry!” Kat buried her head in the crook of Sam’s arm and sobbed, using the once-expensive cloth of his sleeve to hide her shame.

    “No child. This has not to do with you. The demon that guards the entrance to the tower did this….not you, or anything you did.” Sam slid his hand around her, holding her to him whispering calming words. “Your mother will be fine, love. I promise.”

    It took a few minutes for Kat to recover so that she could speak. “If she is alright, I promise I will practice harder, and not give her any lip, and…and…anything!”

    Sam smiled. “Best not to go making promises you can’t keep, Kat. Nashia will be fine, I assure you.” Or I will raze that tower to the ground Sam thought to himself.

    Lying in the bed, her belly still badly damaged from the gutting she had been delivered by the demon, Nashia stirred restlessly. Sam longed to hold her, to touch her, as if by that touch he could make her well. No thought Sam, I can do nothing but be here when she awakes. Sam sighed wistfully and his thoughts turned to the snowy pass in the Thrym Mountains where Nashia and he had fought two days past.

    The moon had been bright as they walked and talked. Nashia in the lead and Sam only a step behind her. They had talked about Kat of course, and then the conversation had taken a more personal turn. And, as was inevitable, the talk had gone sour. Sam blaming her for being stubborn, and she blaming him for being lazy. Sam knew the reasons why he forced these personal talks into arguments each time. Because there were always things he longed to tell Nashia that he could not. Because he was her owner and she a clanswoman. Because he was forced to live a life as near that of a husband as possible, but unable to express his feelings. It was one of the few bonds he had ever dutifully respected.

    But this conversation had turned different. Both their ires had been arroused and they had begun screaming at each other, the both of them inventing more hurtful things to say. And then, quite to his own disbelief, Sam had done something he had always wanted to do. As the argument reached it’s culmination, Sam told Nashia that he relinquished his vow as Nashia of Mard’s owner.

    Nashia was stunned, silenced, if only for a moment. But then her own disbelief turned to anger. Sam thought for a moment that she was going to draw blade on him and run him through for the insult to her person. And Sam, no longer bound by his vow, blood pumping from the argument and the understanding if what he had done, prepared to sign his own death warrant. He grabbed the clanswoman around the shoulders, and before she could draw steel, he kissed her. It was the most passionate and meaningful things that Sam had ever done in his life. All the longing and denial flowed through him and for that moment, which at once seemed endless and gone too quickly, Sam was at peace. True, unfathomable, terrifying peace.

    Nashia struggled for a moment and then let herself flow into their embrace, returning his affection with the same intensity. And when they came apart, Sam simply parted the folds of his vest to bare his chest.

    “If you want to drive that longknife through my heart now, you are welcome to” Sam had looked down to the ground and awaited the end.

    Nashia had taken his hands covered his chest with his vest again. Sam had looked into her eyes and knew then. “I would be your husband, Nashia out of Mard by Rarliva. I can suffer to see no other man in your arms…you stubborn cow” Nashia had smiled, the words he had spoken in anger minutes before turned to a warped pet name to demonstrate his affecti….

    Sam nearly threw Kat from his lap as his hand reached for the rapier at his belt, the sound of the door to the room jarring him from his reverie. An acolyte stepped in carrying fresh linens for the bed. As Sam relaxed his guard she nodded at him and a flicker of recognition flashed across Sam’s face. This was the same acolyte who had tended him during his battle with the plague of coins. “Louella, it is nice to see you again.”

    The acolyte smiled at Sam’s recollection of her name. “It does my heart good to see you well again, Master Samirez. The plague does not seem to have left any lasting effects.” She considered her next words carefully “Though I am sorry to see your friend here now. Does misfortune follow you so?” As soon as the words escaped her lips she seemed repentant for speaking them.

    Sam also chose his words carefully, mindful of Kat leaning against his leg. “I prefer to think of myself as fortunate, Louella. Fortunate that I have such fine healers as Father Ryche and yourself at my disposal in such times as I or my family need you.” Sam considered a moment. “Perhaps I am in fact blessed by Odin.”

    Both the Louella and Kat smiled.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Sam returned from the Pellyte City to Foothold amidst a troubled time. Not two breaths in the West Gate, he began overhearing conversations. Foothold attacked again, and this time, a slaughter had occurred. As if this place didn’t have enough troubles to the East, he thought to himself. Sam perused the old notices left nailed to the bulletin board, and then headed across the street.

    He sat in Gargoyle’s for a time, listening and playing his lute softly. Even in the unusually tight lipped Nest the stories waggled on loose tongues. The Troll and his cronies had butchered Foothold folk, escaping off to Arik in the East.

    Sam considered the tale, and it’s impact. Foothold was dark. Fear was palpable in the air. Anything the men and women of Foothold had done to move on with their lives in the days since the Titan awoke was undone. Sam imagined the new Governor and the Captain were under unimaginable stress. They would be looking for solutions, and yet be faced with criticism and doubt.

    It is not just for them to decide. They should not have to carry this burden alone. All good folk must bear it Sam thought to himself. I have been gone too long from Foothold. And now I will pay my dues.

    Sam carefully packed his beaten and battered lute away in it’s oilskin cloth and rose, leaving a few coins on the table to pay for his cup of ale. Walking out the door, he crossed the street to the board on the barrack wall, he flipped an old one over and with a steady if not refined hand, scribbled a note with a thin peice of charcoal from one of the many pockets in his vest.

    • Markshire PCs:

    A year. Nearly a year since I have last been in Foothold.

    Familiar memories locked in his subconcious began to press to get out, and Sam silenced their cries and mentally slapped them back into their cages.

    It had been pleasing to see the folks at the Red Dragon again. It helped him for a time to forget. Kel was still the fiesty, indominable, beauty she had always been. Portales was, well…Portales. I seem to have some difficulty suffering fools now, despite the fact that I am one, Sam thought to himself.

    The two newcomers, a she-elf from the East named Cheng, and a narcoleptic beer-cured dwarf named Traudek were pleasant enough. Cheng seemed to stir something inside him, but Sam paid it little attention.

    He could still hear them, Cheng, Keli and Portales in the private room of the Dragon. Sam himself had slung into the darkest corner table he could find after leaving them, ordered a strong wine, and pulled his hood up over his face. He watched as two of the local whores glanced in his direction as they walked by from the water closet. Sam recognized the one, but paid their inviting smiles no heed. As the wine did it’s numbing job, Sam slipped into a fugue of unrest and remembered.

    Barrelgore’s rough shove brought him around again. Sam’s hand flew to the ornate handles of his rapiers, and then relaxed recognizing the minotaur. “Sod off, Sam” he said in his gruff manner, “Ye ain’t paid for no room. Time to get out afore I throws you out”.

    Sam nodded, reached into his pocket and placed a stack of coins on the table, and assented to Barrelgore’s ‘request’ by adjusting his hood and walking out into the cold night of Foothold. Alone. More than half a year alone.

    As the guard by the gatehouse motioned Sam to come over – it was late after all and this one was walking about hooded – Sam took a breath and dropped his easy mask into place. The guard recognized him, and returned Sam’s smile.

    “Samirez the Entertainer, wasn’t it? Good to see you again! Where in Thrym’s Cold Desert has you been, man?”

    “Out in the wide and wonderful world, my good sentry, out in the wide wonderful world. You know, wine, women…song?” Sam flashed his trademark grin and winked to the man. A short conversation later Sam left through the West gates, and into the Narlynwik – her favorite place – to try and find peace.

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