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Queer folk

The hours went by, the mountains grew and the sun fell to the west. Two riders rose over a great hill and before them a long expanse of grasses that stretched far away to the feet of the mountains. To the north, across the coppice woods lights and beacons of the burgh beckoned them over.

''That's it.'' Hondscioh broke from his hardly kept silence, with a tinge of excitement. ''Elthengels! -- I can finally pay to my father the cost of the mule I had sneaked from him, if he wasn't get killed...''

Régnwald gave a smirk that was soon to disappear to how he pronounced the name of his battle-friend's home. ''Yes. The horses need a rest as much as we. Their pace has quickened at the sight of the burgh.''

The path was not straight but furnished with wayward hills. Soon they reached the river. They splashed across it, and the horses whinnied. Hondscioh gave a grasp when the cold water wet his ankles. ''Huah! That's cold.'' he shook his feet. ''Helm's balls, if my feet weren't frozen before back in Forlaw, they are now...''

Régnwald could be heard chuckled from behind, thereafter he feigned anonymity.

As the moment passed, they arrived in the burgh. They climbed up the stone stairs and the higher they climbed, the grander the houses became. Each house was beautifully carved with sigils of the families that lived in them. Men carried packages and barrels to places of business. Women sat on porches and looked at them while holding their children from running into the street, for the children wished to run with the horsemen they so admired. Though there was gloom in the air. The pace slowed to a halt, soon they reached the hilltop where the wind blew fiercely, fluttering the capes of the men like flags. The Mead-hall stood before them.

Blacksmiths were turning glowing pokers against the stained wood of the great doors... burning off the black blood. Régnwald, Hondscioh amongst others, watched from one side with a puzzled trade of glance.

''Hardly a day goes by without blood.'' a man protested, which gave Hondscioh a troubled expression.

''They don't let us rest... the worse for us.'' another man agreed.

''Since it began...'' an elderly figure wandered across the crowd, shaking his head.

A weird-looking man, known by the name of Brendan let out a sigh, but did not open his eyes. Régnwald's drifting gaze found him, a short distance off, sitting on a rock -- almost indiscernible among the boulders surrounding him. He was chewing on an apple, studying the others.

''Where did you spend the night?'' Régnwald asked.

The man considered him a moment, then nodded to the spot where he'd been lying.

''You didn't move at all through the night?'' the question was followed by another.

He considered and gave a shrug ''Up once to piss but...''

Régnwald gave a dubious look.

Brendan looked up at him, continuing in wry, rhetorical mood. ''Why was such a daft wretch spared?'' he added fervently ''The orc was wise enough to know a messenger of the Wizard in White! To touch my cloak's to bring his very fire and storm upon its head.''

''That's not what he asked.'' Hondscioh interrupted in grim mood.

Brendan stared back at Hondscioh a beat, ignoring him, turned to earl Osulf who approached. ''Wise lord, you must know the White Wizard, a famous ally of the Mark.''

''Saruman.'' the bearded earl confirmed with a nod ''Of the Wizard in White, we have heard, a fierce ally of our kin.''

''Saruman, yes. I have allegiance to him. And I could show you, if you would find a place for me inside.''

''Show me what? My men took care of the ambusher orcs.'' Osulf answered whilst Régnwald and Hondscioh listened in silence. ''If I recall, your father had a tavern in Edoras, neighbours soft on wine and pig, no blood on its doors.''

Régnwald spake with a fervent sigh ''And no fucking orcs.''

''And no orcs!'' Hondscioh joined him.

''My skinny neck can only bow. But trust me -- that orc shall meet its end in striking me... or those around me.'' soon the weird man would shuffle off. The three sharing a look.

''Madness has its wonders.'' Régnwald concluded, shaking his head.

''You think you need a mead?'' Osulf would ask.

Régnwald nodded his head ''Ah, ya.''

Hondscioh smirked as he followed them inside.