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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2016 6:09 am 
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As for the chaperones they don't need a lot more screen time I'd just like you to tease out a bit more of their different personalities, but I'm still happy with what you've done so far.

Michael T. Hebert

Haakon val'Ishi, Beltinian Exorcist 2.7 [Divine]
Ursula val'Holryn, Grand Master of the Tralian Hammer 2.2 [Martial]
Arun of Tultipet, Holy Champion of Neroth 1.10 [Expert]
Rikitsa val'Holryn, Psion 1.9 [Arcane]

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2016 11:14 am 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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They arrived at the main entry hall, well before the appointed time and moved off to the side, out of the way of those passing through. The Mountain looked around the entry hall, taking in the artwork and statuary as the other two chatted quietly. Wrapping up their brief discussion, Firuz spoke.

“Parviz and I were chatting and hoping you might answer a few questions,” his tone was respectful indicating a more serious topic than their previous banter had warranted.


Firuz smiled. “You are being considered for marriage into the Yunkharoi. Who do you think will claim you?”

The Mountain looked confused causing the other two men to look a bit puzzled.

“Which of the five will ask the Dorai for you?” Firuz clarified. “I think Shirin will, and likely Roshni.” Firuz grinned broadly. “You would be a lucky man with either, though especially with Roshni. Or Vashti, though I’m not sure she will ask.”

The Mountain looked at Firuz curiously. “Why?”

“Your star will rise far with Vashti or especially Roshni. As one of the Dorai’s favorites, a husband of Roshni will have great opportunities for advancement. You are skilled at arms and seem cunning. The Tomal Khan can find a place of position and honor for you. Not to mention that Roshni is a valinor’s daydream!” Firuz offered with a wink. “Vashti is already well established and respected. It is rumored that the right husband will gain her father’s herd when he retires. What a business that would be! Wealth, power, respect! You’d have it all. Shirin,” he pauses lost for a moment in a thought of his own. “She wouldn’t help you as much with gaining status and position, but what a warrior!”

As Firuz was again lost in his thought Parviz looked at The Mountain. “I’m not convinced he’s focused on advancement, Firuz.”

The challenge took Firuz out of his reverie. “Please! The Mountain seeks to marry into the Yunkharoi. He has won championships including in the Arena Varria! He is a man of ambition. Of course he seeks advancement.” The exchange sounded like an old argument repeated.

“Vashti seems unlikely at this point as she cut short the last visit, unless,” and Firuz’s eyes got wide and he smiled broadly, “she had made up her mind and left to make her case. Otherwise I think Roshni will ask. She sent him a gift!”

Firuz looked over at The Mountain. “I know you are hoping for Shirin, as you placed her before either Roshni or Vashti. You cannot lose!”

Parviz shook his head. “Perhaps this is why you are still unmarried, Firuz.”

The Mountain considered Firuz who was perhaps a few years older than himself and Parviz who was likely in his thirties. “You are married Parviz?”

The older guard nodded and smiled. “I am. To a wonderful woman! We have four children,” and looking pointedly at Firuz he added, “we married for love, not for advancement.”

Firuz waved off Parviz’ argument. “Yes, but you did not seek an arranged marriage.”

Parviz shrugged. “No. But that doesn’t mean that The Mountain’s not hoping for a more compatible mate than just advancement.”

He considered The Mountain. “Given the time he spent with each I would think Roshni and Vashti are low on the list. Hard to say among the remaining three as he still has to meet with Arya and Ruana. And,” he pointed a finger at Firuz, “The Mountain didn’t ask to spend time with Roshni today and spent little yesterday.”

The two guards were so into their argument they seemed to forget that the subject of it was with them. The Mountain listened to the exchange, his amusement apparent on his face.

“Um, do I get a say?”

Firuz looked at The Mountain and grinned. “You did! You agreed to be married off!”

“Ok. I’ll leave you two to your argument then.”

The two looked at him confused.

“Ruana is here,” and he discretely pointed to the other end of the entrance hall where Ruana had appeared.

“Let me know who wins,” The Mountain added and winked, then strode off to meet Ruana.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2016 11:38 am 
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I can just see these two making wagers on who the Mountain will marry. :)

Michael T. Hebert

Haakon val'Ishi, Beltinian Exorcist 2.7 [Divine]
Ursula val'Holryn, Grand Master of the Tralian Hammer 2.2 [Martial]
Arun of Tultipet, Holy Champion of Neroth 1.10 [Expert]
Rikitsa val'Holryn, Psion 1.9 [Arcane]

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2016 12:23 pm 

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Haakon_val'Ishi wrote:
I can just see these two making wagers on who the Mountain will marry. :)

Funny you should mention that...

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2016 12:24 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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As The Mountain neared Ruana he dropped to a knee in a sign of respect then rose as she closed the last of the distance. She offered him a guarded smile and he beamed at her in return as he stood. “Ruana! It’s good to see you!”

Her smile warmed a bit at his enthusiastic greeting. “Thank you, The Mountain. And you as well.” She glanced over at the two guards who were watching the interaction of the two of them and whispering with contained animation.

“What do you think they’re up to,” she mused.

“Oh, probably placing bets on whether we marry,” The Mountain replied frankly.

Ruana looked at him incredulously shocked into silence for a moment. He just shrugged. “Should we ask them?”

Finding her voice and processing the turn of events, she looked bemused. “Certainly. After you,” she added clearly curious how all of this would play out.

“Ok,” and he strode purposely over towards Firuz and Parviz. The two realized they had drawn attention, and fell silent as Ruana and The Mountain approached. As they arrived The Mountain started in without preamble, “Were you just placing a bet on whether we would marry?” he asked them.

Firuz’ eyes got big and Parviz laughed.

“Is that a yes?” The Mountain pressed. Ruana looked at the two expectantly.

Parviz nodded and shrugged. “I wasn’t going to take the bet initially, but he offered me 4 to 1 odds and didn’t make it exclusive. It seemed fair.”

Ruana turned her attention to Firuz and raised an eyebrow. “4 to 1 odds?” she asked.

He nodded looking embarrassed. “He uh, doesn’t seem to be your type,” and looked between the two of them. Ruana stared at him with an inquisitive gaze and The Mountain stood with a goofy grin.

“I see.”

The Mountain saved him from further embarrassment by getting her attention. “So what’s next?”

As Ruana turned and began answering The Mountain’s question, Firuz offered the fastest salute decorum would allow and beat a hasty retreat with Parviz following at a more comfortable pace.

“I thought we’d go into the city…” she answered then turned and watched the two depart. As the two of them disappeared through a doorway she broke into a laugh and shook her head. “4 to 1 odds, hmmm? I don’t know whether Parviz got off lucky or should have pressed for more.”

He looked at her curiously. “What would you set the odds at?”

She looked up at him. “That remains to be seen. For now, into the city.” He smiled and she rested a hand lightly on his arm as the two stepped out of the Palace. The weather was pleasant with a steady breeze. Clouds filled the skies dark, but not black. The Mountain looked up and considered. “It’ll probably rain later.”

“Is that a problem?”

“No, I’m used to getting wet,” he looked at Ruana. “Are you going to be ok?”

“I’m sure we can find a place to wait the rain out if need be.”

The Mountain shrugged. “Ok.”

As they walked through the streets Ruana provided him commentary on the history of various buildings they passed, noting which clans controlled the entrances to the undercity. Virtually all of the ones in the Administrata district were played out. As they passed one building she paused and looked thoughtful.

“This was the first entrance to the undercity I explored. I was twelve at the time and went with a few of the older cousins. I’d pestered my father so often to let me explore he finally consented. This one was considered safe as it had been explored over and over. There were a lot of connecting tunnels, so plenty of space to run around and burn off some energy. Day after day we came down here for weeks, exploring every inch of every wall with the kind of focus motivated children have. The tunnels in several places descended, so much of what we had to explore was several stories below ground.”

“Then what happened?” asked The Mountain, clearly caught up in the story.

Ruana’s focus was elsewhere apparently reliving things through her mind’s eye. “We explored where other people didn’t – the ceilings.” The thought brought a smile to her face. “And we found a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling of one of the rooms. It led up into a hidden level of what we believed was a residence from the 1st Imperium. Within it was a stash of scrolls and books along with some religious iconography and vestments. There was also a set of ancient legionnaire armor on a stand. It was a find beyond anything we expected.” She grinned at The Mountain. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

“Hooked on what?”

“All of it! The First City, exploring, finding out more about the past!” she gestured animatedly. “I want to explore the undercity, discover its secrets and bring back other relics of the 1st Imperium. Ever since that first time, I can’t get enough!”

“You said the first things you found were religious stuff?”

“Yes! As far as we’ve been able to determine, it was hidden from the purges of the Theocracy of the Cleansing Flame. None of the materials added much to what’s known of the time, but it filled in a few small gaps and made extra copies of some rare works available.”

The Mountain nodded slowly, absorbing that. “Was anything particularly interesting to you? Are you religious?”

Ruana shook her head. “I offer the appropriate thanks and coin when needed, but haven’t felt the call. You?”

He shook his head and then reached up and into his tunic and pulled out something and looked at it then showed her a holy symbol of Nier.

“You’re a Nierite?” she asked in surprise, then looking closely, “Wait, what are the other chains?”

The Mountain reached in again and pulled out the other chains. All twelve of the gods of the Pantheon were represented through their holy symbols and she arched an eyebrow at him waiting for an explanation.

“I’m not a devout follower of any god, but you never know when you need to say thanks or ask for some help, right? There’s not usually a priest around when you need one, but they all carry these things. If they use these to talk to the gods, then maybe the gods will listen if I have one too.”

“I don’t think that’s the way it works.”

“Other people carry them and they aren’t priests.”

“Yes, but that’s because they feel a strong connection to that particular, god.”

“But what if it’s the wrong one?”

Ruana looked at him confused. “What do you mean?”

“I often travel with a Cadican. If we get on a boat and hit rough weather, should she talk to Cadic? That would be silly. What good will that do? But if you ask Yarris nicely to help us stay safe, maybe he will.”

“But she could still offer a prayer to Yarris.”

“Will he hear it without one of these?” and The Mountain held up the holy symbol of Yarris.

She looked unsure. “I don’t know.”

“Me either. If they didn’t need them to make sure the gods heard them, why would they carry them?” He tucked the various holy symbols away.

She looked amused at the logic he used. “Good question. Doesn’t it confuse people when you pull out different holy symbols?”

The Mountain shrugged.

Ruana chuckled and they moved on. They walked and chatted for another hour as she provided interesting tidbits of information or commentary on the buildings they passed. They moved from the Administrata district and into the Rhamul district with Ruana continuing the history lesson and then asking for The Mountain’s thoughts and opinions. Her patience with his child-like questions and answers was exceptional, far more so than when they first met. As they walked down the busy street, The Mountain pointed at a figure some distance away carrying a crooked staff and asked, “Is that an Ehtzara?”

She looked surprised by the question, and looked where he pointed. “I don’t know. Especially from here it’s hard to say. Why do you ask?”

“I was curious. They don’t follow the pantheon, but talk to spirits, right?”

She nodded, “More accurately they make pacts with lesser powers to gain power of their own.”

“Do you do that?” he asked quietly.

She shook her head and frowned though seemed a bit apprehensive. “No. Why would you ask? Actually, wait.” Ruana guided him to an unpopulated area of the open square they were walking through, out of easy earshot of anyone else.

“Ok, why do you ask?”

“I saw you smooth out the page in the book. That was a good trick!” he noted enthusiastically, but he spoke it quietly so the words wouldn’t carry.

Ruana scanned the area to ensure that there was no one nearby and looked at The Mountain appraisingly. “That’s not a good question to ask someone where someone else could hear you,” she chided.

“No one was around when I asked. Promise!” he replied sincerely. “I checked!”

The fact that he seemed to be careful mollified her to a degree. She stood for a moment her eyes moving quickly but unfocused as if recalling things or putting pieces in place. She came to a conclusion and took a step back out of arms reach and into a stance that would allow her to run or fight if necessary. Her guard was clearly up. “You’re trying to figure out if I’m a caster and if so what kind,” she accused.

The Mountain raised his empty hands in a calming gesture. He slowly dropped to a knee bringing them close to seeing eye to eye. Scanning quickly to ensure they were still isolated from others he quietly confided, “I am not a Harvester, nor anyone you need to fear because of what you are.”

Ruana stared into his eyes seeking the truth of his words. “You are a master of deceiving people. Why should I believe you in this?”

“I have heard that Harvesters have means of knowing if someone’s Gifted if you get their attention. Even if not, is there a reason that I’d risk this if I worked for them?”

“You could be setting me up.”

“It was your idea to go walking in the city. Besides, what do I gain taking this approach?”

“Potentially my trust.”

“Wouldn’t there be better ways to do that than put you on guard?”

She looked at him then gestured for him to rise. “We’re going to start attracting attention if we stay like this. I think we need to talk somewhere private.”

He nodded and then made sure she looked him in the eye. “I will not betray your secret, my word on all I hold most dear.”

Ruana regarded him and weighed his words. “Thank you,” she said, deciding to accept his sincerity at face value. She took a deep breath and relaxed, then reached out and gently rested a hand on his arm.

The Mountain offered her a tentative smile that she returned and they headed back to the Palace.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2016 6:16 pm 
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Nicely done Paul! Keep 'em coming... :)

Michael T. Hebert

Haakon val'Ishi, Beltinian Exorcist 2.7 [Divine]
Ursula val'Holryn, Grand Master of the Tralian Hammer 2.2 [Martial]
Arun of Tultipet, Holy Champion of Neroth 1.10 [Expert]
Rikitsa val'Holryn, Psion 1.9 [Arcane]

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2016 11:15 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:46 pm
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They were close to the Palace when the skies opened up. Fortunately for them it was just a thunderstorm rather than one of the unusual weather phenomena the Blessed Lands were known for. They hurried on rather than seek shelter nearby and arrived back at the main entrance way soaked. After a brief discussion they decided to get dried off and return to the library where they had first met. As Ruana disappeared, Firuz and Parviz made their presence known and escorted The Mountain back to his room.

“So, how has your afternoon been?” Firuz inquired.

The Mountain smiled. “Wet. The lightning flashed. A lot! I love thunderstorms!”

Parviz chuckled. “The afternoon’s not over, and the bet’s the bet Firuz.”

Firuz looked expectantly at The Mountain who shrugged. Firuz sighed and chuckled. “Ok, I’ll be patient.”

Though the clothes were not as grand as those he had been wearing, they were passable as he returned to the library. Ruana was already there in simple but elegant garb, her wet hair pulled back. There was a fire in the fireplace and she was close, warming her hands.

“We’ll be here for a while. Why don’t you go grab something to eat?” he suggested to Firuz and Parviz. Clearly dismissed the two guards saluted and closed the door. In the silence their faint footsteps could be heard fading away. Ruana stood by the fire, watching him and considered.

“You were able to make out at least some of what was on the various scrolls and books I had opened when first we met, weren’t you?”

The Mountain nodded.

“How many of the various languages?”

He considered for a minute. “Four of the five.” His voice was the same but different – a bit more refined than she had grown accustomed to.

She raised an eyebrow.

“I think the other one was High Khitani, but that’s not one I’m familiar with.”

She nodded. “Reading at odd angles is quite a trick.”

He shrugged. “It takes a lot of practice, but it’s doable, just not as fast.”

“Impressive.” She stared at him for a minute. “You are not what I expected and I’m pretty certain this is out of character for you both literally and figuratively,” The Mountain nodded. “So, why? The persona you’ve built, no, that’s wrong. Who you are to the world, is who you have been for a very long time. There was no hint of this part of you in anything I’ve read or anyone I’ve talked to. To the reasonably astute your behavior around me has been risky, to the highly intelligent the term reckless would better apply. There has to be a reason. So, why?”

The Mountain sighed and stared into the fire. His body was tense, though with a deep breath he let some of it go. He sought out her gaze and held it. “All I have is three days.”

“Not much time.”


“So why…” her voice trailed off as she stared at him. For what seemed like a long time though was just a minute or two she stared, her face showing deep thought as she worked through the various facts and ideas. Her eyes opened wide as she reached her conclusions then looked almost awed. “Most impressive.”

The Mountain looked at her curiously. She smiled, mind still racing. “I understand. It makes sense! The questions, the way you behave, all of it!” then her face reached the next conclusion and she looked at him with concern. “But the sacrifice…”

He smiled at her sadly. “It’s a good life, but it’s lonely. I’ve got three days to change that. Today is day two.”

“Who all knows about this part of you?”

“Very few. My parents who I haven’t seen in years, Alesia – a traveling companion of mine, Nasha and now you. Roshni and Vashti each have some sense of it, Vashti more than Roshni,” he paused thinking.

“Arya and Shirin?” she supplied. When he looked at her she shrugged. “We figured who Nasha asked this morning at the arena. Nasha’s choices make more sense now. They didn’t then.”

“I’m not sure if Arya has figured anything out yet. I will see her this evening, but haven’t interacted with her much so far. I don’t believe Shirin knows though.”

He looked at her apprehensively, “knowing what you know, what does that mean to you?”

“It means we have a lot to talk about.”

They sat by the fire and talked for more than an hour, getting to know one another. The conversation grew more comfortable as it went. Too soon there was a knock on the door.

“Enter,” Ruana called.

Firuz opened the door and saluted. “My apologies, but The Mountain is expected elsewhere.”

They nodded and stood.

“Thank you for the gift, The Mountain.”

“You’re welcome. Thank you for treating it with care,” he returned.

They stood there for a long moment, then The Mountain dropped to a knee. “Until later.”

Ruana smiled. “I look forward to it.”

Firuz stepped out of the way as The Mountain exited the room and shut the door behind him.

“Let’s go. I’m hungry. And I don’t want to keep her waiting. Or have a rumbling belly. That would be bad,” he added earnestly.

With a light laugh the three departed for The Mountain’s dinner with Arya.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2016 8:15 pm 

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The first stop was back to The Mountain’s quarters for an appropriate outfit. Either someone had forseen the need or the staff had been exceptional quick when he returned soaked from his walk in the rain. The outfit was a deep green working well with his green eyes and red hair.

“You clean up well,” Parviz commented once The Mountain was dressed. He grinned. Champion’s chain in place he headed down to dinner. As they arrived Firuz stepped aside allowing The Mountain to enter the small dining chamber and shut the door quietly behind him. Even if Firuz had been loud, it wasn’t clear that The Mountain would have heard him. He stopped moving as soon as he spotted Arya. She looked stunning, hair and clothes done to perfection, elegant and warm and her smile matched. She was not as beautiful as Roshni, but she was adept at making an impression.

He offered her a goofy grin and dropped to a knee in salute. She returned a salute of her own. “Welcome, The Mountain. Thank you for the dinner invitation.”

He rose and walked forward. “I’m glad you’re here,” he noted, obviously meaning it. He paused for a moment and took in the room. A cheerful fire burned in the fireplace while a couple large and comfortable chairs flanked it. The table was laden with foods and beverages. There was enough space for the food and yet intimate enough to feel together. Rain could be heard against the stained glass windows and roughly half the room was empty with a large decorative rug covering the floor.

He gestured to the table and she nodded. He pulled out her chair for her and she sat, a smile and a “thank you” for his trouble. As he sat she poured wine for each of them, then raised her glass. He did likewise and they drank, then started on dinner.

“You fought well this morning. I’ve seen Shirin fight before and she is hard to beat.”

“Thanks! It was fun.”

“What did you think of her fighting style? Ground fighting isn’t her focus, but she did well.”

“She’s fast. And tricky. Really tricky,” he added after a pause.

“I noticed you had to change tactics to beat her. Can you explain how you adjusted and why?” Arya asked, content to eat and be entertained.

The Mountain spent time sharing his thoughts on tactics, often going into descriptions of what she watched and less at times the reasons why. He delighted her with his storytelling and managed to resist getting up to demonstrate especially as she had seen him fight.

“So how do you picture your future?” Arya asked.

The Mountain looked confused so she clarified. “Do you expect to keep traveling or fighting in the arena? Is there something you hope to do here within the Golden Court? What is it you dream of?”

The clarification made the question far easier to answer. “I dream of a wife. One who accepts me for me. I love to help people and to travel. I would still spend time doing that. When here? I’d try and find ways to be useful especially to my wife. Someday I want her to love me,” he confessed. “That takes time though. If I’m lucky. I want to make sure she’s happy. If I make her happy, that’s a good start, right?”

She nodded. “Someday have a family. Life needs to stay interesting. I don’t think that should be hard here though.”

Arya looked amused. “I can assure you, life within and around the Golden Court will certainly remain ‘interesting.’”

“What about you? What are your dreams?” he inquired.

“Like you, I like to help people. I dream of making life better for the Maghir and the people of the First City. I want to be a force to be reckoned with, respected for my skill or at least truly appreciated for the difference I can make. I dream of a husband who can be a true partner, helping to bring out the best in the Golden Court and keeping people safe; a husband who’s well respected, able to make a difference of his own. As long as we’re talking dreams, love would be grand, but I’m prepared to work for trust and respect.”

The Mountain seemed a bit surprised by this.

“As with the other women you’re meeting with, the likelihood of us choosing our own husband isn’t high. There are too many political considerations especially with marriages within the Maghir clans. I will certainly work towards my own happiness, but there are realities I can’t ignore. Still, I can hope, and dream.” She smiled.

“As with many things in life, trust is essential. Understanding how much you can trust someone defines your relationship with them – be they friend or foe.”

Arya made sure he was looking her in the eye before she continued. “I don’t know what to make of you. I know you are more than you seem that what you present the world is a carefully constructed façade masking an intellect far greater than what you let on. You don’t seem to have an agenda you’re seeking to advance though. You’re not deceptive by nature or at least you don’t seem to be. You are authentically genuine, heroic and caring and at the same time there is a part of you that’s hiding or locked away that seems desperate to get out, but unable to do so.”

She looked at him with sympathy and concern, reached out and took his hand across the table. “It seems impossible to know you without understanding that part hidden away. Concealing your intelligence feels like an effect of the problem, not the cause. I expect that part of you dictates much of your life, and not understanding it makes you unpredictable.”

Arya squeezed and let go of his hand, but held his gaze. “My instincts tell me to trust you, and I want to,” she noted sincerely. “It comes down to a matter of trust. I expect if I earn enough of your trust, you will share that part of you with me.”

The Mountain nodded, obviously moved by Arya’s words and concern. She smiled at him in return.

He considered for a couple minutes, both eating quietly giving him time to think. “You hope for a partner. If I became that partner, what would I do here?”

“Much the same as you’ve described I suspect. You are the kind of man who reflects well on those he associates with. When you travel you would bring honor to the Golden Court and make connections that could be valuable in the future. Your personality allows you to say things that get to the heart of problems in ways that don’t offend. In a place often mired in intrigue and politics you are a breath of fresh air,” and she took a deep breath and grinned. “You have earned people’s respect for your honor and your abilities. Even those who have cause not to like you are still likely to respect you. You do not come across as ambitious and so will not be seen as a threat. And I’m sure there will be problems to deal with where one of your prowess will be able to help.”

“Could you be happy being with me knowing that who I am to the world is different than who I am to you?” he asked with quiet concern.

She steepled her fingers resting her face on it for a time as she considered. “You have gotten to the crux of the challenge. So far you have presented yourself as a man of little intellect, and perhaps occasionally foolish. A man can be simple but wise. Could you grow to be the man who is simple but wise?” She looked at him intently.

The Mountain slowly nodded. “I could become that man.” Arya looked relieved. “Then I believe I could be happy.”

They finished dinner, talking about lighter subjects. They told each other stories, the room providing enough room for The Mountain to punctuate his with movement and acrobatics much to her amusement. She sang songs for him in different languages and different types. Hours passed and eventually she yawned. “I’m afraid I should call it a night,” she stated as she stood.

He nodded and stood, then dropped to a knee in salute, mimicking the same not quite appropriate greeting he gave her when first they met. She offered an appropriate salute in reply.

“Will we talk tomorrow?” Arya asked.

“Yes,” he responded taking her hand briefly. “I would like that.”

He exited the room finding Firuz and Parviz alert in the hall, though showing signs of fatigue.

“That seemed to go well…” Firuz offered, fishing for what he might learn.

“Yup!” The Mountain answered with a grin.

Parviz chuckled at Firuz being thwarted yet again. The three returned The Mountain to his room.

“And tomorrow?” Firuz asked.

The Mountain considered. “Please come for me an hour after sunrise.”

They nodded and retired leaving The Mountain to his thoughts.

To be continued…

Last edited by Hat on Fri Apr 01, 2016 3:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2016 12:03 pm 

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The Mountain wandered out to his balcony and stared up into the night sky, lost in thought. He didn’t stay there long as restlessness overtook him. He left his room and made his way out of the Palace, the guards at the main entrance noting his passage and expecting his return. As he exited he looked to his right over at the stadium, then turned away. His feet took him down the broad avenue past the Treasury and the Assembly Hall of the First Families and into the Plaza of the Goddess. He moved slowly and without purpose, seemingly content just to wander. Given the hour few were out and about other than the Blue Cloaks, though being at the heart of the First City it was not without some traffic.

He looked up to discover the Tree of Serenity before him. Unlike most hours, there were no sermons, no pilgrims, no religious ceremonies taking place. He crossed the remaining distance and settled in at its base, back against the trunk. Sheltered within the ancient willow’s branches he was removed from even those few people about at least until his isolation was disturbed.

“May I join you?” Roshni asked.

If he was surprised by her presence he didn’t show it and nodded.

“What brings you out here at this hour?” she asked.

“I needed to walk and to think. My feet brought me here. It seems a good place. I was upset, but this place makes me feel better.”

Roshni nodded. “The Tree of Serenity is said to bring peace to the troubled who sit below its branches. Do you want to talk?”

Silence stretched as he considered, “Can I trust you?”

“You will likely be betrothed to one of my relatives within the week. That will make us family.”

The Mountain turned so he could see her. “Telling you puts my life in your hands and possibly the life or happiness of others. Is that a responsibility you are willing to shoulder?”

She considered his words. “I swear to you, I shall keep safe the confidence you share with me.”

He searched her face weighing the sincerity of her words and expression. “Very well. Where should I begin?”

“What’s bothering you?”

He sighed. “Everything?” She waited patiently for him to continue.

“I have less than a day,” he started, his voice quiet. “By tomorrow night I will either be betrothed or as I was. Both thoughts terrify me. Tomorrow evening I will go before Nasha and make my request.”

This seemed to surprise Roshni. “She’s letting you pick?”

“I at least get to express my preference.”

“And who do you favor?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered.

“What do you want out of life then?”

“To help and protect people. To travel and learn and see. To live a full life. To make a difference in people’s lives and not necessarily in big ways.”

“And have a family?”

The Mountain looked at her, “For most of my life that was the impossible dream. Now it’s tantalizingly close and it scares me.”

She looked at him oddly. “Why?”

“Because I’m worried someday I will simply be gone. Not killed in a fight doing something that makes a difference, but simply gone for being what I am.”

Roshni looked at him oddly. “What are you?”

He paused, struggling to answer the question. “Gifted.”

It was clear from her expression she didn’t understand.

He spoke his next words so quietly she had to lean in to hear him. “I have the Gift of magic. The Sorcerer King of Ymandragore claims all of the Gifted are his subjects and should work for him. He sends out servants called Harvesters to kidnap the Gifted and bring them to him to serve him, whether they want to or not. They simply disappear never to be seen again. So to protect myself, my parents convinced me to hide that part of me away and master the discipline necessary to control it. Only highly intelligent people are Gifted, so a good way to hide is to not be smart. It’s not like I blend into a crowd otherwise,” his gesture indicating his great height and massive build.

“So that’s why you pretend to be simple. So you don’t draw the attention of the Harvesters.”

The Mountain nodded. “The problem is that it means hiding who I am from everyone I know. A couple of years ago I got desperate for conversation – a real conversation where I could be myself. I sent out a few letters to places I was fairly sure were safe. The only one that ever replied was Ambassador Tukufu. His letter was brief, but pointed and correct. I had erred in revealing myself in that way. I tried to help him understand my struggles with who I am, but he never wrote back. I’d like to think it was because he was concerned that corresponding would put me at risk. He offered advice which I have sadly had limited success with. He said:

‘If you would take advice from an Altherian take breaks from your fire and find a good set of friends. They’ll be invaluable. Joy shared with friends becomes greater. Sorrow shared with friends becomes lesser.’”

“And have you managed to do that?”

“Only with limited success. I have one friend who knows my secret. I have traveled with others, but I worry about putting them or me at risk. Not intentionally, but it takes a lot of care to not make a mistake, say the wrong thing have the wrong expectation. I accept the consequences of living as the simpleton I portray. Sometimes they are costly. Trust as I think you’ll understand, is hard to come by.”

“So life has been very lonely. Imagine standing with a bunch of companions you have travelled with for a long time and none of whom have ever shown signs of believing you to be anything more than what you’ve shown them. You are a part of the group and yet at times still feel like you’re standing on the outside looking in. Worse still, that if you risked finally opening up to them and sharing your true self, there’s a good chance they would feel betrayed. I think this is part of why I like helping people so much. I can help make someone’s life better and it is a small way to connect my true self to others if only for a moment.”

“Less than a week ago Nasha needed help and I was happy to assist. As a reward for my service she then offered as one of the options a wife. The prospect both excited and terrified me. I want someone who I can share all of me with and who sees and accepts me for who I am. Something that sounds so simple is something I believed was an impossible dream – until Nasha made me consider it.”

Roshni reached out and rested her hand comfortingly on his shoulder.

“I shared my secret and she found five possibilities. The last couple of days I’ve been less guarded, giving clues I wouldn’t have otherwise in the hopes that they’ll see who I really am. Vashti was the first to figure out I was not the simpleton. What will make her happy though, I can’t give her. Ruana has managed to figure all of it out and understands what drives me. Arya knows I am smart and that there has to be something deeper for me to behave as I do, but doesn’t know I’m gifted. She understands that relationships are built on trust and is trying to earn it, sharing what she knows and being supportive and patient.”

“And Shirin?”

He sighed. “I don’t think she’s figured it out, though I’m not sure it would matter to her one way or the other. She seems the most accepting. She’s the one that is the closest fit for how the world sees me. That’s also made it a lot harder to provide clues as we don’t seem as dissimilar as say Ruana and I. Shirin’s intelligent and has other interests we could talk about or pursue when alone, so I could still be me.”

“But she hasn’t passed your test?” Roshni pressed.

He hesitated for a moment then answered “No.”

Roshni considered him. “A marriage here offers you more than just a wife and a meaningful life for you, doesn’t it? You think being married into the Tomal Khan’s family and building strong ties here might give the Harvesters pause in taking you if they ever do figure things out.”

He nodded. “A marriage does offer some protection, but I would never want anyone hurt because of me. I want a good life. Is that too much to ask?”

“It shouldn’t be, but who knows what fate Larissa has planned for you.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“So it’s Arya or Ruana then?”

The Mountain nodded. “Yes.”

“Both are capable of defending themselves, though I doubt that’s come up in conversation…”

He shook his head.

“Do you want to talk about them?”

Once again he shook his head. “I just need time to think.”

Roshni smiled and stood, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for your trust. After our misfortunate beginning, that means a lot. Both Arya and Ruana are great women. I expect you’ll be happy whichever you choose.” She squeezed his shoulder and left.

The Mountain stayed for a while, his back to the Tree of Serenity, lost in thought. Eventually he rose and headed back to the Palace.

To be continued…

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 Post subject: Re: The Heart of The Mountain
PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2016 4:58 am 
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Location: Portland OR

Much bigger than "must like dogs." And Tukufu's follow through doesn't look so good as a correspondent! At least the advice he gave still sounds good (to me anyway). :D

Of course I had to go back and reread the letters by the fire.

Eric Gorman

AKA Ambassador Tukufu, man of letters, tomb raider and Master Sword Sage
. . . and Sir Szymon val'Holryn, Order of the Phoenix
Formerly Sir Jaeger val'Holryn. Weilder of the Holy Avenger: Thonanos. Gave his soul to help free King Noen

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